After leaving school at 16, he spent several years in a chartered accountant's office and with a solicitor in an advertising agency. I recall him once saying on radio that he regarded these years as the wasted years of his life! At the age of 19 he became a professional — in the capacity of musician, comedian and stage manager in touring revues. He played in West End clubs, and joined the Maurice Handford Band at the Piccadilly Hotel, giving his first broadcast with the band in 1928. In 1931, the Monseigneur Restaurant wanted a tango band, so Lou joined a combination fronted by Eugene Pini.
Curiously, despite the billing of 'Eugene Pini and his Tango Orchestra', Lou Preager always insisted that he was the Musical Director. It was during this period that Lou met Billy Reid and together they formed the Billy Reid Accordion Band. As Lou Preager did not know how to play the accordion, Reid gave him an intensive three-day course! Lou then joined the Gene Louis Band at Selfridges, playing for tea-dances in the afternoons but directing a Continental-style band in the Mayfair Restaurant in the evenings. It appears that nobody ever did anything for long in those far-off days and 1933 found Lou Preager leading an 11-piece band at Ciro's but transferring within weeks to Romano's in the Strand, issuing his first gramophone record in 1935. The band's appropriate signature tune at that time was 'Let’s All Go Down The Strand'. Lou’s Accordion Serenaders were also broadcasting around this time. In 1937, Lou took a band on tour, taking up a residency in Bangor until the outbreak of war.
Despite immediately offering himself for service, he was told to continue entertaining. He therefore formed a show band, which he took to France. Having been machine-gunned on route, however, the band was immediately sent back to England for its own safety. After a spell of ambulance driving, Lou joined the Intelligence Corps in 1941, but, whilst training for a commission in Scotland, he was involved in a serious motor accident (ironically, whilst off-duty) and his right arm was smashed. It was only after eight months' intensive hospital treatment that he was able to get his arm reasonably straight. He was invalided out of the Army in 1942 but was soon fit enough to form a 14-piece ballroom orchestra at the Hammersmith Palais, where he was destined to stay for nearly 18 years.
He started broadcasting regularly as 'Lou Preager and his Correct Tempo Ballroom Band' (as it was initially called). He sometimes broadcast live from the Hammersmith Palais in such shows as 'Saturday Night at the Palais', as well as doing studio sessions with singers such as Paul Rich, Edna Kaye and Rita Williams. He began a long association with 'Music While You Work' in 1942, playing quickstep medleys interspersed with other dance rhythms — the hotter, big-band-style numbers being reserved for other programmes. Many readers will remember his distinctive, somewhat martial arrangement of 'Calling All Workers', making effective use of fanfares on the trumpets with the melody played underneath on the saxophones. Although his signature tune was now 'On the Sunny Side of the Street', he normally closed his MWYW programmes with 'Whispering', featuring tenor sax and piano and gradually speeding up to link with 'Calling All Workers'.
He did 96 editions. Whilst at the Hammersmith Palais, Lou played opposite Harry Leader and Phil Tate. The latter was playing for the revival series of MWYW in 1982 when it became apparent that the band was tight on time. One musician called out: 'Let’s do a Lou Preager and speed it up', and another musician interjected 'That’s right — let’s play Whispering'! One of Lou's biggest broadcasting successes was a song writing contest called 'Write a Tune for £1000'. The 52 programmes took place during the years 1945, 1947 and 1950 and produced a number of successful tunes, notably 'Cruising Down the River', which made a fortune for a couple of spinsters, Nellie Tollerton and Elly Beadell.
Nowadays, there’s the Eurovision Song Contest, about which the less said the better. Lou Preager and his Orchestra were featured frequently on televisIon, with 'Palais Party' on ITV in 1955 and later with the very successful 'Find a Singer', for which Lou wrote the script, shared the presentation and was involved with the production, as well as conducting the band! In 1959, he decided that it was time for a change and his orchestra moved to the Lyceum in The Strand. He was regularly featured on television's 'Come Dancing' in the days when this programme came simultaneously from two ballrooms, each in the region of the competing teams. In later years Lou appeared as an adjudicator. In 1962 ill health caused Lou Preager to retire. Internal operations in 1955, 1961 and 1962 affected him for the rest of his life.
During his career he had won several trophies, including, on three occasions, the Carl Allan Award for the best palais band. Lou left London and went to live in Slough, where he bought the local Carlton Ballroom. After a heart attack in 1967, however, he sold the ballroom, settling down to a quiet life playing golf, billiards and snooker. Over the years, Lou Preager made records for Panachord (some as Don Luiz and his Tango Band), Regal Zonophone and Columbia. Some of his Columbia 78s were reissued on a President LP.
Lou also recorded as Lou Preager's Mink Tone Music — strict-tempo ballroom music in the which the brass section used mutes lined with mink! This might sound like publicity talk, but Lou actually cut up his wife's discarded mink coat so that the mutes could be lined with it. This created quite a distinctive sound which he used for 'Music While You Work'. In the fifties, Lou Preager was well-known as a disc-jockey - introducing 'Housewives' Choice' and his own 'Record Serenade', 'Meet My Friends', 'Platter Playtime' and 'Listen With Lou'. Lou Preager was a complex man, intense and serious and, apparently, not one to suffer fools gladly, but he was also known to be gentle, generous and kind-hearted. As I mentioned earlier, he had impressive qualifications as a psychologist and, so I’m told, practised faith healing. Quite an extraordinary man! He died on 14th November 1978 at the age of 72.
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