Obituary: Arnie White, printer and a popular dance band musician

Arnie White operating the old rotary Cossar Press for the last time in 'December 1977
Arnie White operating the old rotary Cossar Press for the last time in 'December 1977

Vincent Arnold White, who died aged 93 on January 2, was a time-served all-round printer and a well-known musician who played with a popular local dance band for more than 50 years, writes Bill Birch.

Known as “Arnie” to most people, he was born on October 6, 1921, the youngest of ten childen in a family that lived at 586, Rochdale Road. His mother was called Amy, his father, Oliver, was a joiner.

He began his education at Walsden Primary School, moved to Roomfield School when he was ten and at 14 joined Cunliffe Brothers printers above Chew’s garage at Fielden Square. Prior to Chew’s tenure there the weekly Todmorden Advertiser was printed in the ground floor premises, though the firm went out of business during the war years with its newspaper taken over by Waddington and Sons a few doors away and amalgamated with its own District News to form the Todmorden News and Advertiser.

Arnie rose to become machine room manager at Waddington’s and personally printed their weekly newspaper on the firm’s upright rotary Cossar Press until production moved to the Halifax Courier’s newly installed modern rotary lithographic press in January, 1978.

Arnie was called up in the early months of the war and was trained and then qualified as a gunnery instructor. He served six years in the Royal Marines based at Chatham, rose to the rank of sergeant and was active in the South Coast defence forces.

Returning home on being demobbed and finding Cunliffe’s closed down, he was taken on by Waddington’s, though on a temporary basis. In effect he was like the man who came to dinner and never left, for he remained there until retirement in 1986. He had joined the Typographical Association when he started at Cunliffe’s and became branch president in 1953, served 14 years on the committee and saw it through the merger into the National Graphical Association. He was president of the Todmorden branch of the NGA from 1968 until the formation of the West Yorkshire branch four years later.

Around 1937, at the age of 16, Arnie went to Manchester and bought a second-hand double bass and brought it back home on a bus! Following some basic tuition from Tom Blakey, double bassist with the local Belvedere Dance Orchestra, and some music lessons from friend and teenager pianist Eddie Dowling, he taught himself to play the instrument. A year or so later he got together with some like-minded local musicians who formed a small rehearsal dance band.

Initially it had Frank Barker on alto saxophone, Tom Parker, tenor sax, Harold Kettley on trumpet, Martin Gilboy, guitar, his friend Eddie on piano and Bill Tucknott on drums. When Frank Barker left to join Ellis Wood’s Astorians, Gerry Kirk, son of violinist James Kirk, replaced him on alto sax. With the later addition of two others the band became known as the Albany Players. Arnie, Eddie, Gerry and Bill became lifetime friends and from 1946 onwards, long-serving members of the Belvedere Orchestra.

This orchestra started life in 1924 and became a household word in the field of ballroom dancing in Todmorden, as well as surrounding districts, for more than 75 years. Its popularity spread to Huddersfield, it entered and passed a BBC recording audition and was on the Town Hall stage at Rochdale for the gala evening when hometown girl Gracie Fields was conferred an honorary citizen.

Arnie was the band’s secretary and treasurer for more than three decades and seldom missed an opportunity to send written, constructive introductions of the orchestra to societies and associations in the pursuit of engagements.

In November 1946 Arnie married Jenny Dixon, a Glaswegian girl he met in Inverary, Scotland, after being posted there from Chatham in 1945. They had two daughters, Janice and Vicky, though his wife became ill and died on January 18, 1961. In July 1966 Arnie became married a second time to Mary Proctor - nee Greenwood - and they lived at Gauxholme Fold. She pre-deceased him in December 2004.

Both were connected with Knowlwood and Shade Methodist Church over many years where Arnie was secretary for six years.

Accordingly, his funeral will be held at Central Methodist Church, Todmorden, on Tuesday, January 20, at 9.45am followed by committal at Rochdale Crematorium at 11.10am. He is survived by his daughters and four grandchildren.