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Death of Norwich man who wrote Sale of the Century theme tune

PUBLISHED: 15:24 16 May 2011

Peter Fenn, pictured in 1979

Peter Fenn, pictured in 1979

Archant

Anglia’s “Mr Music,” Peter Fenn, who has died aged 80, composed the signature tune for the hugely popular Sale of the Century quiz show.

For more than 30 years, he was director of music at Anglia Television, composing theme tunes for some of its best known programmes, including About Anglia and Gambit.

He played on the second day of Anglia’s broadcasting on October 28, 1959 with the glamorous presenter, Susan Hampshire, then just 17. The Midday Show, which was transmitted at two minutes past one, also featured co-presenter Roger Gage and music from Peter Fenn and Betty Bass and the Bachelors. “There was no pre-recording, not even of the songs . . . the small band and terrific pianist Peter Fenn never let us down,” she said.

But catchy and distinctive organ playing rapidly won almost a cult following. And in 1981, the show, with host Nicholas Parsons attracted a then record audience for an Anglia TV programme of more than 21.2 million. In a tribute to the programme’s director, Peter Joy, he named the tune, Joyful Pete. A total of 374 programmes were broadcast for more than 11 years on the ITV network until November 1983.

Born at Great Yarmouth on April 1, 1931, he was evacuated to Wisbech during the second world war. At Wisbech Grammar School, he learned the piano. He made his mark at Great Yarmouth Grammar School as the official history noted: Senior pupil Peter Fenn encored with an impromptu pipe organ rendering at a classical musical evening of Charlie Barnet’s famous big band number, Skyliner. Playing secular music on the organ annoyed the staff but delighted the audience.

After the war, he trained as a teacher and took up the top music post at the former Henderson School in Bowthorpe while the Peter Fenn Orchestra played in Norwich and Norfolk. When he deputised for the pianist at the Samson & Hercules in 1958, the band leader Leslie Douglas was so impressed that he offered a summer season at Weston Super Mare for 18 weeks – paying four times a teacher’s salary.

He became a professional musician and lived on a houseboat on the River Thames near Richmond, playing solo gigs locally. By chance, he heard about a new post at Anglia TV and became the first musical director. In the early 1960s, he admitted that he had been sent a crude demo tape from an unknown band called, The Beatles. But he took no further action.

He was chairman of Hospital Radio Norwich in 1979 and also played live lunch engagements with musicians.

As he lost his sight, he continued to play the organ at his local church, Bawburgh, where he would often delight members of the congregation with his lively playing.

A fellow pianist, Tony Ireland, of Cromer, who knew him for more than 15 years, admired his “brilliant playing” and “extraordinary ability” to entertain.

Married three times, his last wife, Shirley died last October. He was admitted to the Norfolk & Norwich University Hospital about a month ago, where he died. He leaves a nephew, Terry.

A memorial service will be held at St Walstan’s Church, Bawburgh, on Thursday, May 26 at 3pm.

Michael Pollitt

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