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News > Archives & History > From the Archives: Robert Paterson (1955S)

From the Archives: Robert Paterson (1955S)

From the archives, a famous OD of whom very few have ever heard. Here we unearth past stories from the old Diocesan College Magazine. Robert Paterson was South Africa's first concert impresario.

Robert Paterson (1955S)

A famous OD of whom very few have ever heard of. 

The very first clue that, for some unaccountable reason, the ODU had lost track of one of our most famous sons, came as an email: 

I am a writer currently engaged in writing a screenplay about one of your old boys, Robert Paterson.

He was a pupil in the fifties and left in 1955. He went on to become one of England’s top Impresario’s. Sadly he died at the young age of 50. He was set to study medicine at Cambridge but decided to enter the entertainment business instead. There seems to be a general lack of information regarding Robert despite his documented achievements. He died penniless and downtrodden his body riddled with the effects of booze and until now, is all but forgotten. A riches to rags story, as his family background was one of considerable wealth. Sadly it’s a “What have you done for me lately” world and his achievements have dissolved into the ether. I am writing his story with his ex-wife and hope to get some kind of recognition for what was, after all, a larger than life existence who brought, in his relatively short career, great pleasure to millions of people. He is an unsung hero who was very proud of his time at your school. 

He was a sickly boy so probably didn’t make many friends but he made up for that a few short years after leaving Cape Town to return to the land of his birth. What he achieved was remarkable; the trouble is he is forgotten. He was the youngest Impresario in the world. Your school should be proud of one of its old boys, who went on to defy the odds and make a mark on the world. Maybe you could make your students aware of Robert Paterson despite his sad demise. Where better than the school that represented his aspirations? He was a member of the MCC at Lords and gained his love for cricket, according to those that knew him, at Bishops. He was probably too sickly to play given that he suffered from asthma. He was a very cultured and well-educated boy so I imagine he did very well academically and that can be attributed to his time at Bishops. He was a very notable man. Any effort to remove the fog from Robert's past would be welcomed. See what you can come up with. There has to be someone who remembers him. 

Sean Casey 

Robert Paterson (1955S) was South Africa’s first concert impresario and throughout the swinging sixties and seventies controlled the pattern of the international concert world. On 11 November 1965 the ‘musical event of the year’ took place in the Royal Festival Hall in London. Igor Stravinsky had come out of retirement in Hollywood for this one concert. Robert Paterson, aged 25 of Cape Town, stood in the wings as he watched an 83-year-old man take shuffling steps towards the conductor’s podium. As he moved the audience of 2 900 rose to its feet in the greatest ever single tribute to a living musician that London had seen this century. On the following day the concert, for which the New Philharmonic Orchestra had been augmented to 110 players, was hailed as the musical event of the year. The man who gave London this unique event was young Robert Paterson. In one exciting year, he has put together a triangle link-up between the concert world of London, New York and Paris. He now handles 14 leading artists and two orchestras and has startled his rivals with audacious forays for the top names, including the Stravinsky triumph. 

When interviewed by the world’s press after staging this concert, he had this to say of his love and understanding of music: 

I owe this to the musical training that I had at Bishops. We had a wonderful music master, Dr Claude Brown, who encouraged every kind of musical expression and who made it all completely enjoyable. It was his training that turned out one of the ablest young music critics in London today, Andrew Porter (1945G) of Cape Town. My instrument was the violin which I studied until I was 15- I still like to play when I have the time. Even in those early days, I knew my future must be with music.

Robert Paterson was born on 10 of March 1940 in Devon and was brought up in the family home on Dartmoor. His father, Kenneth Paterson, was a Colonel with the Gurkha Regiment and a member of the family haulage firm Carter Paterson. After the end of the war, aged six, Robert and his mother moved to the more temperate climate of Cape Town, South Africa, partly because of his health problems which included severe asthma. Educated at Bishops, Robert fell in love with classical music thanks to his mother giving him an album by the classical pianist Julius Katchen. 

Robert had the good fortune to meet his hero in person at the Cape Town Concert Club in 1955. Robert presented many thousands of concerts all over the world, but his favourite venue was the Royal Albert Hall in London. Grand Tier 40 was his ‘home’, where he hosted many wonderful and famous friends. Robert’s generosity was unbelievable – he booked the ballroom of the Grosvenor House Hotel for 150 guests, Ava Gardner among them, to honour and celebrate Benny Goodman. Duke Ellington was fêted at the Dorchester Hotel, again with Duke’s family and many friends. Shirley Bassey had the choice of her favourite restaurants and private clubs – Annabel’s being one of her favourites while Marlene Dietrich preferred Le Gavroche. Robert’s generosity was unrivalled. He took over whole restaurants to wine and dine friends. He sent employees, lawyers and friends on holiday to the Far East and to Russia to see the Bolshoi Ballet, all compliments of the house.

During the miners’ strike in 1972, the electricity supply was reduced and sometimes cut, but Robert took his wife to Asprey’s the jewellers to choose a birthday present for her by candlelight. He bought her a beautiful diamond ring. He saw an advertisement for a car with the number plate SB19. He phoned Shirley Bassey who was staying at the Dorchester Hotel, asked her to come downstairs and presented her with her first ever car!

Article from March 2011 Archives


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