Len Rawle MBE 1938 – 2023
It is with sadness that we heard that Len died, suddenly, on November 14th 2023.
Len had been a good friend to the TOC for many years and he often pointed out that he was born the same year as the Club was formed, in 1938.
We had got to know Len and Judith in recent years, due to his continued support and willingness to play at Club events, usually for expenses only, and it was especially nice to have spent a weekend with them both when Len played for the Club at Grant and Rachel’s home in Tibenham.
The Club was also honoured to be invited to Chorleywood for a meeting, which was a very informal event, with Judith providing refreshments and Len providing music at the Empire Wurlitzer, the console was also available afterwards to those with the nerve to try it, such was their generosity and hospitality which made for a day to remember.
Len was, quite fittingly, voted TOC Patron on four occasions and was our final Patron in 2020.
Len was born at Tonypandy and was a graduate of the London School of Music in Cardiff, later studying in London where he was able to get to grips with some of the remaining in-theatre organs and meet some of the great names of the organ world.
Len’s parents, Les and Edith, had installed the country’s first residence organ at Northolt where Len was able to hone his skills, before taking the plunge and purchasing his own Mighty Wurlitzer for his and Judith’s new home in Chorleywood.
I well remember Len saying that every playing engagement fee was measured in bricks for the new house, which was to be built around the Wurlitzer, which was officially opened by Gerald Shaw with Jack Fergusson and Len in June 1968.
Len was frequently to be found playing for the TOC and COS in the 1960s, in company with Keith Beckingham, John Mann and Graeme Wright, before becoming a star organist in his own right, not just in the UK but as a truly international organist, being featured in the US, Australia and throughout Europe.
Len had the distinction of appearing on the first edition of ‘The Organist Entertains’ in June of 1969 and appeared on many subsequent editions, as well as on TV, most famously in ‘Metroland’ where he was visited by Sir John Betjeman, in 1973.
Len and his father, Les, were also renowned as organ builders and restorers and, as well as their own instruments, were responsible for keeping alive the Wurlitzer at the Gaumont State Kilburn and the Christie at the Regal Edmonton, as well as the installation of the Wurlitzer in Woking Leisure Centre and the re-installation of the Edmonton Christie at Barry Memorial Hall, amongst others. However, Len’s greatest achievement was the ‘Raising of the Granada Tooting Wurlitzer’ in 2007, for which an amazing £40,000 was raised, which enabled the famous organ to be heard for the first time in over 30 years. Sadly, and much to Len’s disappointment, the project was short lived as all the hard work was for nothing as the organ was again flooded, never to be heard again.
Despite the frustration of Tooting, Len continued to be one of the busiest and most popular players on the theatre organ circuit. He had returned to Tibenham in September to play for a group of pensioners and had been playing the piano the evening before he died.
Len’s passing leaves a big gap in organ circles, but his legacy lives on through his un-tiring involvement in all aspects of the organ scene for over 60 years, and through his many, fine recordings.
We send deepest condolences to Judith and their family.
Early days at the Granada Willesden
At the Gosport Compton
At Weston-super-Mare Odeon with Andy Quin - meeting the people