Benny Green (saxophonist)
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His parents were David Green, a tailor and saxophonist, and Fanny Fryer. They met while David was playing with a band in Leeds. They married in London in 1926 and initially lived with David's father, an immigrant Russian-Jewish tailor, at 1 Greenwell Street London. Benny Green was born in Leeds because his mother wanted to be near her own family for the birth, but they soon returned to London, to a basement flat in Cleveland Street. Here he became a streetwise but sentimental cockney-Jewish character.
He was educated at Clipstone Street Junior Mixed School and St Marylebone Grammar School.
In 1958, Green appeared in the UK pop charts as a member of Lord Rockingham's XI, the house band on ITV's rock 'n' roll show Oh Boy! The novelty jazz/rock release "Hoots Mon", complete with spoken interjections in a broad mock-Scots accent, reached number 1 for three weeks in November and December. Green later joked that wearing dark glasses whilst playing (to counteract the strong studio lights) generated a fan letter addressed to 'the blind sax-player'.
His BBC Radio 2 Sunday afternoon record show ran for many years until his death. He had a huge range of knowledge about the kind of music he liked, by classic "Great American Songbook" composers like Kern and Cole Porter and jazz, and would introduce most records with details about the artist(s) and often complained about developments in music with which he disagreed. He had a particular (though, to some listeners, not readily explicable) dislike of certain artists, including Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller.
He also chaired Jazz Score, a radio comedy panel game broadcast on Radio 2 and the BBC World Service for 20 years. Many jazz artists appeared on this show, stopping the contest to recount their own anecdotes about their career and other jazz musicians, some of whose names would mean little to the general listener.
He first worked for the BBC in 1955 and worked regularly for it from then on. In the 1960s he often appeared (with, among others, Alan Brien, Dee Wells and Robert Pitman) on Three After Six, Associated Rediffusion's early evening television discussion programme on current affairs. In the 1980s he contributed occasionally to Stop The Week, Robert Robinson's Saturday discussion programme on Radio 4. Green also wrote and/or narrated many radio documentaries about stage and film musical stars and Hollywood, his other main interest apart from jazz and sport. He also wrote for magazines, including Punch, and regularly for newspapers. He was a great admirer of writer P. G. Wodehouse, and published a literary biography of Wodehouse in 1981. He was also commissioned to write the entry on jazz in Encyclopaedia Britannica.
Green is notable for publishing the Wisden Anthologies, a summary of the famous cricketing annual, between 1979 and 1983. The four volumes covered the highlights from Wisden Cricketers' Almanack from its inception in 1864 until 1982 and stand as a milestone in cricketing literature. By way of contrast, in 1976 he had previously published I've Lost My Little Willie: A Celebration of Comic Postcards.
Benny Green married Antoinette Kanal in 1962, and had three sons and one daughter. His son, Dominic Green, is a guitarist who has published a book about his father, Benny Green Words and Music (2003). Green died at the age of 70 of cancer in the Royal Marsden Hospital in Surrey.
Works by Benny Green include:
- Swingtime in Tottenham (1976)
- Fred Astaire (1980)
- P G Wodehouse: a Literary Biography (1981)
- Last Empires: Documentary Anthology of Writing About the Music Hall (1986)
- Let's Face the Music: The Golden Age of Popular Song
- The Reluctant Art
- A Hymn to Him: The Lyrics of Alan Jay Lerner
- Such Sweet Thunder: Benny Green on Jazz (2002)