STILL SWINGING
(from The People, c1984)

Ivy Benson and her All Girl Orchestra were the musical sensation of wartime Britain. Formed as a five piece group mat Manchester's Ritz Ballroom, the novelty of an all-girl band caught on quickly. By the time World War Two ended, Ivy and her girls were so popular that Field Marshal Montgomery personally invited them to entertain the troops at victory celebrations in Berlin.

More than 40 years on, Ivy is still swinging and swaying, beating out her familiar signature tune, "Lady Be Good". Only now it's just Ivy and her one girl band. At the age of 73 she's gone solo, swapping her famous saxophone for an electronic organ to entertain holiday makers at the Waverley Hall hotel in Clacton on Sea, Essex.

"Just seeing me again seems to spark off so many people who danced to my band during the war" says Leeds born Ivy. "Elderly ladies come up to me and say: "You can't be THE Ivy Benson. You must be her daughter".

Diamante earrings glittering, Ivy laughed uproariously and adds:" I have to remind them that the reason they remember me is that they are probably as old as I am".

Success
Immediately after the war, Ivy and the band toured other military outposts. "In the North African desert the British troops posted armed guards round her dressing room", she recalls. "Some of the lads hadn't seen a woman for ages, you see".

The orchestra's wartime popularity became a springboard to world-wide success. Expanded to a line-up of more than 20 lady musicians, they took to the road. It led them to a 22 week top-of-the-bill season at the London Palladium.

"Some of the girls were only 16", explains Ivy, who bought her forst saxophone from her 15 shillings-a-week wages as a cloth grader in Burton's menswear mill in Leeds. "It was like looking after a big family. Oh yes, there were problems. They fell in love, they got pregnant, they got drunk, they got married".

Spiralling overheads and the problems of finding suitable musicans led to Ivy finally disbanding the orchestra a few years back. But Ivy plays on, serving up nostalgic memories of the wartime years. "Maybe I should think about changing my signature tune" she said. "One Alone" might be appropriate".