BBC Northern Dance Orchestra

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The BBC Northern Dance Orchestra was a big band run by the BBC and formed in 1956[1] as the successor to the BBC's Northern Variety Orchestra, which had been formed on 1 April 1951. Known to listeners as the NDO, it broadcast on the radio daily, usually from recordings made at the Playhouse Theatre in Hulme, Manchester, and on many trips to halls throughout the UK. Through BBC Transcription Services it gained loyal listeners overseas. Many well-known musicians played with the orchestra over the years, including trumpeter Syd Lawrence, who left the NDO and formed his own very successful big band in 1967,[2] and saxophonist Johnny Roadhouse, one of the band's founding members.


The NDO's first conductor was Alyn Ainsworth, who had conducted the BBC's Northern Variety Orchestra. Ainsworth also wrote some of the band's arrangements together with Pat Nash and Alan Roper, using a standard big band line-up of five saxophones, a flute, four trombones, four trumpets, occasional solo violin, and a rhythm section of piano, double bass, guitar, drums and percussion. The original NVO owed its roots to Ray Martin and his orchestra, who were playing for variety and other programmes long before the BBC decided to form its own band based in Manchester and who did on occasions conduct the Orchestra.

As well as its national radio broadcasts and contributions to musical links for variety shows in Manchester, the orchestra also appeared regularly on BBC television in shows such as Six-Five Special, All Systems Freeman and Make Way for Music. On the radio, it featured in Pop North, and Here We Go with the NDO. It was occasionally augmented by a string section, leader Norman George, almost bringing it back to its Northern Variety Orchestra Roots – becoming the Augmented Northern Dance Orchestra.

Some members of the NDO played in the pit orchestra for The Good Old Days TV programme, conducted by flautist and arranger Bernard Herrmann, who succeeded Ainsworth as conductor of the NDO.


The band was threatened with closure in 1969, as much of its work was by then being carried out by the London-based BBC Big Band, the successor to the BBC Dance Orchestra and BBC Showband, which functioned as part of the larger BBC Radio Orchestra. A public outcry about the closure of the NDO followed, and the band was retained. But under a shake-up of musical policy, the orchestra was re-organised by the BBC in 1975 as the BBC Northern Radio Orchestra.[1] Under the leadership of Neil Richardson, it continued until the BBC closed many of its in-house orchestras in 1985.[3]


The NDO made a number of recordings – in 1972 a vinyl LP, BBC Records, REC 133s, a CD called A Legend Reborn, NDO CD 101; both of these are no longer available.

In 2012, a double CD, Diamonds: The Best of the BBC Northern Dance Orchestra, was produced by three ex-BBC staff to celebrate 60 years of music by the orchestra.[4]

In 2013 another double CD album Pure Gold 1, was issued with music from the band's beginnings up to around 1966.

In November 2013 a double album called Ruby was issued, containing some rare experimental stereo recordings and some of the last stereo recordings the band made in the 1970s.

In April 2014 another limited edition double album – Pure Gold 2 was released. As with all the preceding CD's this is being sold at cost, and for this double album donations are encouraged to benefit the Musicians Union Benevolent Fund.

September 2014 saw the issue of a 61 track double album – Pure Gold 3. This contains earlier tracks and more of the last stereo recordings the band made in 1974.

In 2016 Legends was released containing 60 tracks, and including rare augmented NDO material, in which around ten strings were added to produce a much sweeter sound. The double album was made to remember all the legends who were associated with the band, including the late Bernard Herrmann, who did so much to maintain the excellent music quality of the band when he took over from Alyn Ainsworth.

In 2017 a double album featuring one of the small groups formed when the NRO was disbanded was produced. Butterflies in the Rain featuring vocals by Angela Christian and David Brandon, with Johnny Roadhouse on his saxophone, all tracks arranged and conducted superbly by Tony Harrison - a real fun album which takes us back to the days of the old variety shows.

In 2018 a double CD - Its Magic was produced featuring the extreme talents of Nigel Ogden at the Playhouse Wurlitzer, and one of the founder members of the NDO, Johnny Roadhouse, on alto sax. CD2 showcases the 'songbirds' of the NDO and some unreleased tracks of the NDO and NRO.

It is hoped that a book about the NVO and NDO researched and compiled by the late Rod Cotter will be produced in 2019 explaining exactly why the NDO was so respected and admired in the big band scene, worldwide.

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b Garner, Stephen, "Northern Dance Orchestra", Big Bands Database, archived from the original on 31 July 2010, retrieved 6 September 2010
  2. ^ Moss (1994), pp. 7–9
  3. ^ "Neil Richardson biography", Radio Cafe, retrieved 9 October 2010
  4. ^ "Diamonds: The Best of the BBC Northern Dance Orchestra",, retrieved 20 July 2012


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