A Review of the Fund To Date
by Deputy Chairman Brian Willey
Written in 2009 on the Fund’s 75th Anniversary
Revised and edited in 2016 by J. Morgan
The desire to distribute benevolence to PRS members in straitened circumstances was first proposed at the Society’s 1931 Annual General Meeting by its then chairman, Leslie Boosey. One year later a PRS Members’ Assistance Fund emerged, with a meagre kitty of £100 as a contribution from society investment earnings to allow a few immediate payments to be made to needy members or their dependants with at least 10 years’ standing.
Such a small sum was, however, woefully insufficient to be seriously useful, but by April 1934 the PRS Benevolent Fund was established and financed by a subvention of 0.5% of the society’s distributable income. Within a year, the contribution was raised to 1%, which then represented just over £1,000, which was doubled to 2% a few years later.
In the summer of 1939 the Fund’s income level reached an annual £3,142, and enabled it to purchase Church Hill House, a freehold property in Horsell, Woking, Surrey, as a convalescent home for its aged beneficiaries. Unfortunately it was never put to its intended use for, at the outset of the war it was immediately rented out as ‘evacuation offices’ for the society itself, before being adapted as a temporary refuge for members rendered homeless by enemy action. Always hoped to be an asset of increasing value, by 1945 its use was deemed not to justify its cost and it was sold.
At the outset of the fund’s establishment the PRS directors had stipulated that its chairman must also be chair of the fund – thus Leslie Boosey naturally became its first incumbent. He was a remarkable man. Son of Boosey, a founder of music publishers Boosey and Hawkes, Leslie was its company chairman as well as being chair of the PRS Board of Management. A commanding figure, he appeared to be quite tireless in all his endeavours. Joining the army at the age of 21, his military career lasted eleven years, during which time he fought in France in World War I. It is also intriguing to note that, in later life, he became chairman of his Hertfordshire parish council, a rural district councillor, a churchwarden and, during World War II, a chief air raid warden. He remained chairman of the fund for 23 years, until his retirement in 1957, aged 70.
The rule of the society chair was then relaxed and the Fund committee became entitled to select its chair from within its own committee members. Since that time the fund has been very fortunate with its many servants. The first successor was composer and musicologist Robert Elkin, who served for seven years until his untimely death in 1964, which then brought music publisher Bill Ward into the role. Bill had already given 23 years service as a committee member, and would now serve as its chairman for a further 17 years until retirement in 1981
Songwriter and publisher Hubert W David followed. Familiarly known as ‘Micky’, he was the son of legendary songwriter and founder director of the PRS, David. Micky served until 1987, when, aged 83, he stepped down in favour of his deputy, Dr. Geoffrey Bush, who proved to be a consummate chairman until ill health forced his retirement in 1997. Geoffrey died the following year, having achieved a remarkable record of service to the Fund – 40 years as a member of the management committee, and then a further 10 years as its chairman. He was truly a dedicated inspiration to us all. Publisher Len Thorpe came next, serving for five years until his death in 2002. The current incumbent is long-serving committee member of some 15 years, composer and musician Ray Davies. And so concludes the chairmen roll-call to date.
It has been noted that committee members often serve for many decades and occasionally said that it is hardly surprising, for no doubt it is a lucrative appointment! This is a scurrilous suggestion and I take this opportunity to assure everyone that fund trustees and fellow committee members give their services for no recompense. It is considered an honour to have the opportunity to help those in need. Expenses are reimbursed of course – but strictly confined to travel!
There are many roles to play within the fund. Trustees are the caretakers and guardians who make sure all is running to plan, and have been equally notable over the years. Knights of the Realm as trustees and committee members from the past have been Sir Granville Bantock, Sir Lennox Berkeley and Sir Arthur Bliss. Other major composers who have served include Tolchard Evans, John Gardner, Ron Goodwin, Roger Greenaway, Eric Maschwitz and Haydn Wood. There is no obligation for a trustee to attend committee meetings, but most have done so on a regular basis and the present trio – Nicky Graham, Peter Glenister and Paul Patterson – continue that tradition.
Company secretaries are equally essential. The first incumbent was William Grice who, apart from war service in the armed forces, served from the start until his appointment as PRS secretary in 1952. Jack Pinfold succeeded him for the next 22 years until his death in 1974. The next appointment was Les Britton who, at the time, was also registrar of the society. When Les retired in 1985 his assistant, John Logan, just the right chap to take over as general secretary, and John’s dedication and motivation stands to this day.
Once only in its 75 year history has there been any misappropriation of the fund’s money. During the war a deputy company secretary chose to embezzle money entrusted to his care and his irregularities were not discovered until the auditors had completed their work. It did, however, serve to ensure safeguards against recurring!
With the society’s annual subvention the fund’s income steadily rose and by 1950 its assets exceeded £50,000. At the 25th anniversary in 1959 it was receiving an income of nearly £40,000, awarding grants of almost £20,000, making loans of some £12,000, having an investment valuation of around £130,000 and, at times, catering for up to 500 beneficiaries. With the addition of generous bequests, from March 1960 a return to the 1% annual contribution from the society became possible.
Its early investments were largely in the form of savings bonds but by 1968 a stock market portfolio was considered essential and the stockbroking firm Seymour Pierce was appointed to draw up an investment plan from which a fund portfolio could be established. Once introduced, the fund’s fortunes improved considerably, enabling society subventions to be further reduced until a low of 0.15% was reached in 1983. By then its investment policy enabled the fund to comfortably exist with no need for financial assistance from the PRS, but the decision was taken to maintain a modest annual donation so that by technically making a compulsory contribution from their own PRS royalties, no member who is financially distressed need hesitate in asking for help from the fund in times of sickness or hardship. A fixed annual sum of £25,000 is still paid to justify every member’s right to apply.
Over the years, several stock broking firms have been employed – the company presently looking after the fund fortunes is Messrs. Brewin Dolphin, whom we thank for their expertise and diligent attention to our requirements.
Upon the establishment of an investment portfolio, a sub-committee was deemed essential to keep a watching brief on the broker’s activities and the fortunes, good or bad, of the equity holdings. Micky David was duly elected as chair of the new finance committee – a position he maintained until he reached the age of 88. Even then he did not retire but became a trustee – a role he conscientiously fulfilled until his death in 1999 at the very grand old age of 95. Although serving as a trustee at the time, I had the honour of being appointed the new finance chairman and am now in my 18th year in that capacity. The present practice is for the finance committee to meet with the brokers on a quarterly basis, when a thorough examination of their activity is undertaken in order to present a report to the main committee. Although the main input of its financial strength is through investment income, the fund is also reliant upon benefactors’ donations and particularly by being remembered in their wills.
The name Percy Fletcher is now all but forgotten to modern musical ears, but it is still fondly remembered within the fund’s history, He was a highly gifted light music and brass band composer and also an eminent theatrical conductor who sadly died in 1932 at the early age of 52, but leaving a sizeable portfolio of compositions. Upon the death in 1944 of Marie, his widow, a provision in her will directed that half the royalties payable to the Percy Fletcher estate should be paid to the fund, in memory of her late husband. A separate trust fund was set up and for many years the money supported a room dedicated in his name and situated in the Musicians’ Benevolent Fund’s former rest home in Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex. The Trust Fund wound up in 1987 when most of his works entered the public domain and the PRS income dried up. What little money remained was used to place a memorial plaque on the house in Farnborough in which he had lived.
Many eminent personalities have left valuable legacies to the fund – such names as Marc Bolan, Albert Ketelbey, Billy Mayerl, Leslie Osborne, W H Squire, Helen Taylor and Charles Williams are but a few whose continued royalty payments benefit the fund. There are also a number of members who, having responded to a recent appeal, donate a regular fixed percentage of their distributed royalties.
Staff and Committee
As the financial position of the fund improved, so its workload correspondingly increased and during its lifetime the constitution of the original committee has grown from six to twelve members, with a chairperson and deputy being elected from their number. Committee meetings are held on a monthly basis and, in the event of an interim application requiring urgent attention, contact is maintained with all committee members for their advice and sanction.
John Logan, formerly the PRS assistant registrar, became the fund general secretary in 1985 and supervises the daily procedures, assisted by the fund’s administrator, Christine Keeley, who, with all the ancillary office duties she has to undertake, often finds each working day bordering on frantic!
The appointment of a visiting welfare worker was first mooted in 1980 – initially to serve both the PRS Members’ Fund and the Musicians’ Benevolent Fund – but it was soon realised that serving both funds was far too much work for a single person and by 1984 each fund had appointed its own visitor. Currently we have Annie Paterson serving in this role. The geographical spread of our membership is such that it also requires the services of a part-time regional visitor system with three people serving Scotland and the North East, the Midlands and North West and Cornwall.
A further important aspect of the fund is its collaboration with three other musical charities; The Musicians’ Benevolent Fund, The Royal Society of Musicians and The Incorporated Society of Musicians; who work hand in glove with us by sharing information in the welfare of our respective members.
How the Fund Helps
So what does this fund actually do in caring for its needy PRS members? Since 1941 a scheme of payments has been in force to give regular weekly grants to elderly or sick members in need of financial assistance. Additional packages of help are also awarded in the form of grants for essential household needs such as clothing, bedding and furniture, telephone rental, provision of television equipment, help with car tax and M.O.T. costs, winter heating hardship, holiday funding, Christmas vouchers, secured loans, insurance, and also financial advice by a professional debt counsellor.
It must be stressed however that the mandate is to assist in cases of genuine hardship and distress, not merely discomfort or inconvenience.
The Fund has, through various associations, made provisions for housing members in need. Our current facility is Cyril Wood Court, a housing complex built expressly for the accommodation of musical and artistic people and is to include a proportion of PRS members who are in need of sheltered housing.
To mark the 75th anniversary occasion, a major concert, titled ‘Helping the Heart of Music’, was recently organised for presentation in London’s Royal Albert Hall. It took place on Sunday 25 October 2009, and featured a galaxy of stars all freely giving their services for the benefit of our charitable needs. Happily it was considered an unprecedented success, raised a substantial amount of money and created a great night of entertainment to a full house.
Another concert was held in 2012 to celebrate the music of our benefactor Marc Bolan. This took place in the Shepherds Bush Empire and again a host of stars joined in to perform songs by Marc and T.Rex.
Please Support the Fund
Although the fund’s resources can now be measured in millions that must never be a reason for complacency. Life seldom gets easier – we may all face unexpected hardship at some time, and there are many that often face far more than the majority. In more recent years requests and demands upon our services have already increased considerably and will no doubt continue to do so, for these times of recession and uncertainty bring more anxiety and the need for financial support.
PRS for Music has recently relaxed its rules on admittance to membership and there is now greater awareness of our existence. Both these aspects are beginning to have an effect, so much so that we have been forced to revise the rules on how we may best help those in their initial years of membership. As a member of the society, if the going gets tough then this fund is here to help you. On the other hand, if you are more than comfortable with life, please remember us by making a financial contribution to help your fellow members who may be in dire need of care and solace.
To conclude, I salute those who, 75 years ago, had the foresight to establish such a fund as this. At this point it is worth repeating a statement made in 1939 by an eminent early member of the society, composer Charles Ancliffe, who had become a great champion of our Benevolent Fund and wrote “ … the good it has done is beyond computation. With its ever sympathetic committee and gentle method of administration, it takes into consideration the sensitive natures of the applicants for its assistance, and is doing a delicate job in a fine way.” So many beneficiaries owe those who founded it an enormous debt of gratitude – and we who currently serve it will endeavour to ensure their perception and legacy continues to thrive.