In the mood for Miller

RACHEL BANHAM His life, and death, has become the stuff of modern day legend. But primarily, it is the music of Glenn Miller that continues to appeal to all ages. As the eighth annual tribute to him takes place in Norfolk, Rachel Banham found out more.


His disappearance – of which it is the 60th anniversary this year – has been shrouded in mystery for decades. But throughout it all, the melodies that made band leader Glenn Miller famous have endured, delighting those who remember the originals and enticing children and grandchildren of devotees too.

It all means the annual Glenn Miller tribute event in Norwich is consistently popular. Cliff Meachen is promotions manager for the Jonathan Wyatt Big Band, who will perform at the event, and said that last year people travelled to the concert from as far as King's Lynn, Lincoln and Ipswich.

The band will play at the Assembly House in the city, which is an appropriate setting.

It's close to Chapelfield Gardens, where some believe Miller may have played.

And the venue has another special connection with the Miller era. When gifted stage designer Oliver Messel was posted to Norwich during the war, in charge of the Eastern Command camouflage office and camouflage factory, he explored the city in his spare time and discovered the Assembly House. By the mid-1930s it was faded and unwanted. He was outraged that it was being used as a warehouse and eventually the War Office set up a camouflage school there.

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Mr Messel, who was Lord Snowdon's uncle, was full of ideas for the building after the war. A ball was held there by the officers of the camouflage school, and Messel used his talent to show Norwich the decorative and social possibilities it possessed.

He succeeded, and the house went on to be enjoyed by the whole community, as it is today. The Oliver Messel Bar was subsequently named after the gifted designer.

Another attraction at the tribute event will be the Norfolk Military Vehicle Group. Running since 1977, it now has more than 100 members and some will park their vehicles on the forecourt at the venue over the weekend of the Glenn Miller concert.

The group, whose membership spans the ages, has supplied vehicles and equipment for Band of Brothers, the television spin-off series from Saving Private Ryan which was screened last year to great acclaim.

Its publicity officer Charles Warren, who doubled for actor Billy Zane in the film Memphis Belle in 1989, explained the aims of the group.

“Really we're just recreating a piece of living history and keeping it alive,” he said.

“More and more younger people are becoming interested in the second world war and the Glenn Miller music because of such films as Memphis Belle, Saving Private Ryan and Pearl Harbor.”

Enthusiast Mr Warren, who also has military clothing from the period, has restored a Willys Jeep that dates back to 1942.

“It was an original Jeep used by the Americans in the second world war over here in England, and there are very few left now with a known history,” he said.

He says he will also bring along an old trombone to the event, which he believes could be linked in some way to Miller.

“I've always been into Glenn Miller's music, but since having the trombone I've gone in depth with my research,” he said.

Mr Meachen added: “It just goes on – the mystery deepens.”

Both men are keen to share the joy of the Miller music and military vehicles with others. And now, some 60 years since the bandleader's plane is believed to have disappeared over the English Channel, it all seems especially significant.

t The eighth Annual Tribute to Glenn Miller takes place at the Noverre Suite of the Assembly House, Norwich, on Saturday and Sunday November 6 and 7. The event is sponsored by RC Snelling TV of Norwich. The Saturday performance begins at 7.30pm and there is a matinee on the Sunday at 2.30pm. Some tickets will be available on the door. There will be a fundraising raffle for Marie Cure Cancer Care on the night.

t All tickets are £12 and available from the Assembly House box office at Norwich Theatre Royal on 01603 598688.

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