Playing with ENSA
(From Norman Dannatt - February 2007)


(ENSA - "Entertainments National Service Association", or depending on your point of view "Every Night Something Awful !!!)

I was in ENSA at the time that Ivy Benson and Band came to play in the Schauspielhaus (theatre) in Hamburg. It was Xmas time and she was due to give a stage show for the troops which was also to be broadcast. She was asked to get the Band to play "I'm dreaming of a White Xmas" but she did not have the band parts for it. At that time I was working as pianist in a Big Band made up of musicians recued from the German concentration camps and I can write music.

The night before the concert I was asked to write an orchestration for the band but they could not have asked a worse person. My knowledge of orchestration was entirely academic, learnt when I was studying music at college. Another member of ENSA and I set to work and his knowledge of band orchestration was even more fragile. Somehow we cobbled together the band parts. We gave them to Ivy who looked at them in horror. She made some scathing comment about not wanting 16th Century counterpoint. In the end the Band played "White Xmas" by busking and made a splendid job of it. The theatre was full of troops who received it with great enthusiasm.

I remember in one of the concerts in the Schauspielhaus (I'm not sure if it was the Xmas one), Ivy played Artie Shaw's "Concerto" to great acclaim.

At the time, whilst waiting to rehearse for a new show called "Bandstand", I was helping Robin Stark, (the author), the officer responsible for liaison between the Theatre and the NW Germany Broadcasting Company. It was he and I who had to liaise with Ivy about the stage show and broadcast, and was responsible for me being dragged in to write band parts. Robin had a far greater opinion of my musical prowess than I warranted.

The Band I was put into as pianist was "The Grasshoppers", conducted by a Belgian sax and fiddle player. Others in the band (all rescued too from concentration camps) were Dutch, Lithuanian and Russian. The star of the show was Billy Whittaker, a fine red-nosed comic and also included Peter Felgate who, when he left ENSA, ran the Fol de Rols concert party. The show started with a park scene with a full size bandstand on it. In the second part, the bandstand opened up to become a stage at the back of the scene on which we in the band played, periodically through the rest of the show. I ceased performing after I left ENSA and for some years wrote music for Peter Myers for West End shows.

Pictures taken during the show were by T. Bobsien (known to everyone as Bobby). She was half Chinese and half German and worked as lecturer in photography in Hamburg University. I used to go to her evening classes. She taught me all I know about darkroom techniques - all of which are now redundant with modern digital cameras.

Photographs of Ivys Girls playing in Hamburg Christmas 1945, are in the Photogallery - Album 54
Click here to view them.

When I was in college the students put on a Carnival parade. A group of the male student musicians dressed as girls and marched along with a banner "IVY BENSKIN'S GIRLS BAND". Benskin was the name of a brewery. I was not in their group however, but in a much more disreputable one!

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