Bob Copper MBE
In 1950, Bob and his dad Jim sang on BBC Radio, which let them be heard by a national audience for the first time. This was followed by many more broadcasts. Bob was a collector as well as a source of traditional folk music.
The Copper family’s influence on the development of the folk tradition in the IK can hardly be overestimated. They are one of the inspirational sources of the folk revival which started in the 1950′s and which continues to the present day.
In February 2001, Bob Copper was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards for his contribution to preserve his musical roots. In January of the previous year, aged 85, he was awarded an honorary masters degree for his services to country life. Revivalist forlk singers such as the late Peter Bellamy, Shirly Collins, Louis Killen and Frankie Armstrong count the Copper family as one of their audiences.
Bob Copper was still singing up to his passing in March 2004 (he used to say, ‘People who saw me or bought records from the 1950′ are amazed I’m still alive!’). His son John, daughter Jill and her husband Jon Dudley sang with him and occasionally Bob’s grandchildren as well. Above all. he wanted singing to be fun for themas it was for him. In 2003 Bob was awarded the MBE for services to music.
In 1933 Gracie opened an orphanage at Peacehaven to provide the Theatrical Ladies Guild with somewhere for the children of actors and actresses, who had either died or were ill and temporarily unable to provide for them, to stay. The home was to ‘keep, clothe and educate needy children of professional people until they reach an age where they are capable of looking after themselves, to give them a happier, sunnier outlook on life, and to strive to maintain that outlook after they leave it to make room for other little ones.’
Gracie’s mother and father, her manager, Bert Aza, her two sisters, Edie and Betty, and their husbands were all present at the opening ceremony, as were many celebrities of the day – music hall artistes Charles Coburn, Robb Wilton, Norman Long and Charles Austin, and Sir Harry Preston and Dominions Secretary Mr J H Thomas. Gracie made a little speech, then the guests all had tea in the large dining room before departing.
Twelve children were the nucleus of the orphanage, which was originally the first house Gracie had bought for her parents. They had found it ‘a bit far from the pub and fish and chip shop, lass,’ so she bought another one for them nearer to the good things of life, and, with additions, the first house became the Peacehaven Orphanage. The Guild ran it, and Gracie financed it until 1967, when it closed through lack of children needing it. The two children remaining were found homes in the area, and the house was sold (it is now sheltered housing for the elderly, Dorothy House)
The number of children fluctuated through the years between twelve and twenty-five. Gracie went to see them frequently and kept in touch with the matron about the wellfare of their charges.
‘I should like to be matron,’ she said once, ‘I suppose that sounds funny, but it’s true; I love kids and I’d see they were all one big, happy family.’
Most of her visits were private ones – when she lived in Telscombe (during the latter half of the thirties), it was near enough for her to pop in for a while, and she did this often. When she broadcast, all the repeat fees went to the orphanage, and when she was asked to open anything, she usually asked for the fee, to go to the orphanage fund.