Cyril Stapleton was a ubiquitous figure in English pop music across three decades, initially by way of the BBC and later as an independent bandleader. Born on the last day of the year 1914 in Mapperley, Nottingham, he took to music easily and early in life, taking up the violin at age seven, and he made his first local radio appearance at age 12. He made regular appearances on the BBC as a boy, from their Birmingham studios. In his early teens -- which coincided with the tail-end of the silent movie era -- he frequently played in movie theater orchestras, playing accompaniment to silent films. He later attended Trinity College of Music in London on a scholarship, and during this time he auditioned for and won a spot in a new dance band being formed by leader Henry Hall under the auspices of the BBC. In addition to broadcasts, Stapleton played on several of Hall's recordings for EMI's Columbia label. Stapleton eventually lost the spot, however, owing to his youth, and returned to Nottingham. He then had ambitions as a bandleader himself, however, and formed his own group, which got work locally in theaters.
He subsequently toured South Africa with Jack Payne's orchestra, and played on records by Payne's group. In the second half of the '30s, Stapleton's band moved to London, and by March of 1939 they'd made their BBC debut. He still occasionally worked in other bands, including the Jack Hylton Orchestra, however, and the outbreak of the Second World War late in 1939 forced Stapleton to abandon his career -- he served in the Royal Air Force for the duration. Although he was initially an air gunner, he was eventually able to put his musical abilities to work organizing entertainment, and by the end of the war he'd become a member of the RAF Symphony Orchestra.
Stapleton continued working in his field after leaving the RAF, and in the period immediately after the war he played with the London Symphony Orchestra, the National Symphony Orchestra, and the newly founded Philharmonia Orchestra. He soon wearied of the limited repertory in the classical field, and re-formed his own band in 1947. In short order he was also back on the BBC, and one of the singers he featured in those broadcasts was Dick James, the future music publisher, immortalized by his signing of members of the Beatles as songwriters in 1962.
In 1952, Stapleton was appointed leader the BBC Show Band, the radio service's most prestigious performing unit for popular music, with its biggest audience -- in addition to featuring top homegrown talent, only the biggest visiting American singers -- including Frank Sinatra -- appeared with this orchestra. Stapleton became a ubiquitous presence in English entertainment and popular culture across the mid-'50s -- his mere selection of a song could make or break it, and like Sinatra (and, later, Elvis Presley) among singers in America, Stapleton as a bandleader was given first refusal on new tunes by profit-minded publishers. He was also able to make the leap to the big-screen by way of the widescreen feature Just for You (1955). By that time, the orchestra had become so successful that several members, including Bill McGuffie and Tommy Whittle, had started their own separate careers as bandleaders in their own right, and the band had introduced one huge star, Matt Monro, to his first national exposure.
And then, in the spring of 1957, for reasons that have never been clear, the BBC decided to disband the orchestra. Stapleton was cut loose from his longtime employers, but he never broke stride, organizing his own orchestra again and going out on the road, in addition to cutting more records and still appearing on radio. Surprisingly, even amid the rise of rock & roll, he didn't find any interruption in his work, and he tried to understand the new music. In the mid-'60s, he occasionally tried to record and sign promising rock bands that crossed his path. In 1965, he became the head of A&R (artists and repertory) at Pye Records, one of England's three major recording organizations. His audience was still there, however, and in the early '70s he resumed recording and touring with a re-formed orchestra. Stapleton passed away in early 1974, at the age of 59. ~ Bruce Eder