This is the story of Wycombe-born bandleader Nat Allen. The band, in addition to a great many live performances, was a big hit on the radio and TV air-waves in the 1930/40s, and continued to be very popular through the 50s and 60s.

Nat was born Edward Nathaniel Allen on April 7, 1909, the only child of Frank and Edith Allen. His father was a picture frame-maker and the family lived above the shop at No.26 Easton St, High Wycombe. The business was established in about 1900 by Frank’s father Charles.

Edward’s (Nat became his professional name) ambition to be a musician was so strong that he was only 17 when he placed an advert in the Bucks Free Press edition on October 8, 1926 - “Nat. Allen’s Dance Band is open for engagements, apply for estimates: 26 Easton St, High Wycombe”. He added “The ‘Nattiest Band in Town’.” Only four weeks later he got his first booking - the band was one of two featuring in another advert for a “Non-Stop Dance” at the Town Hall on Saturday November 6.

In November of that same year his band was providing the “excellent music” at a whist drive and dance for the High Wycombe Branch of the Licensing Trades Association in Unity Hall, Pauls Row in Wycombe. He was then busy in the run-up to Christmas in December, playing in at least three dances; on the 11th at Parker’s Sports Club, on Boxing Day evening at the Wooburn Club (in the advert the band was described as the “Most popular Band in the District”, so Nat appears to have been a master at marketing!), and on Dec 29 in the Town Hall for the “Wycombe Phoenix Harriers Gala Long Night Dance”.

As well as being the leader of the band, which played “tip-top arrangements” Nat played the guitar and the banjo. His main attraction was however that he was a true entertainer. He not only acted as compere to the band’s shows, but also introduced an element of comedy into his announcements for example.

Having established a reputation in his home town, Nat then decided broaden his horizon. He began playing as a member of bands who were resident at different establishments in London. For example in the early 1930s he was in the band which was resident at the Carlton Club in Tottenham Court Rd.

His first really big break came in 1932 when he joined the resident band at the Piccadilly Hotel, “as a musician playing guitar, banjo and piano”. In 1934 he was chosen to play in the band for the Variety programme, which was part of the very first national broadcast on British TV, by the BBC on November 2.

Nat then appears to have left the Piccadilly Hotel band and throughout the rest of the 1930s developed his career by playing with different bands at venues in London, whilst still leading his band at dances mostly in the Wycombe local area. Then in 1940 he was invited to re-join the band at the Piccadilly Hotel as musical director, a major step-up for Nat.

An event occurred on the evening of March 8 1941, memories of which must have remained with Nat for the rest of his life. He and the band were at the Cafe de Paris in London, when this famous night-club was hit during a raid by German bombers. Two bombs fell down a ventilation shaft into the basement ballroom and exploded in front of the stage, where the band led by Ken “Snakehips” Johnson had just began to play. At least 34 people were killed. Nat Allen and his band were extremely fortunate as they had only just vacated the stage at the end of their session.

With the advent of WW2 Nat seems to have been able to develop a new side to his band’s career, on BBC radio. Perhaps this was made possible by influential contacts he was able to develop during his TV appearances.

The war years were to provide great opportunities for bands to not only entertain, but also to motivate, and improve the morale of, the general population in the country. By 1941 the Nat Allen Band was beginning to build a national reputation through appearing regularly on BBC radio. They featured on shows like “Music while you work” on the Light Programme, for example the Nat Allen Quintet appeared on September 10, 1941, and on Forces Radio. A performance by the band on “Music while you work” in 1944 was filmed by British Pathe and is currently available on YouTube.

The date October 22 1941 was something of a milestone in Nat Allen’s career. His acceptance amongst those in London’s “High Society” was assured when his band were invited to provide the music at a society wedding at Caxton Hall, which included amongst the guests Bud Flanagan, Chesney Allen, and Charles Naughton. Later that same day Nat demonstrated that he had not deserted his home town, with the Nat Allen Band providing the music for dancing by the 450 people at the Anglo-Soviet Ball in the Town Hall.

However that was the last public performance by the band until March 1942, when they appeared at the Regal Cinema in Marble Arch. During this period they concentrated on their broadcasting commitments, appearing on the BBC’s Overseas Service 2 or 3 times a week.

In December 1941 Nat received a “cordial letter of appreciation” from the National Savings Committee in London. This was for the help which he and his band had given in “stimulating savings by concerts and the like in factory canteens”. It was particularly appreciated “that you have after long nights engaged in other concert work, come to our aid early the next morning to hearten and stimulate workers in the factories”. National Savings, that is money invested by the public, was particularly important in WW2 as it was mainly used to fund the production of military hardware and armaments.

On Sunday evenings in 1943 Nat was the musical director of the BBC radio programme “Calling British Forces in Malta”, on which he proposed through the Bucks Free Press (BFP) to have an occasional “Wycombe Day”. He invited readers who were parents of Wycombe men serving in Malta to send requests for musical selections for these men - “their regimental numbers and the school they went to should be sent in”. The comedian Ronald Shiner came to Wycombe on behalf of the BBC “to record in eleven homes personal messages for High Wycombe men serving in the gallant George Cross stronghold”.

These recordings were broadcast on “short-wave” on the Sunday evenings of June 6 and 13,1943. “For the benefit of those families who do not have short-wave reception on their wireless sets, the High Wycombe British Legion have generously made arrangements to have a set available at the club in St Mary’s Street”. The programme was compered by Ronald Shiner, the music played by the Nat Allen Band and the songs sung by Miss Anne Shelton.

A list of the names of the families and their addresses are given in the report of this event in the BFP. This can be supplied to readers who are interested, just email me at

To be continued