Sir F Vivian Dunn 1908-1995
KCVO OBE ARAM FRSA RM
Francis Vivian Dunn was born into a military and musical family on Thursday 24th December 1908 in Jabalpur, India. His mother Beatrice Maud (Stone) was born in Aldershot and later served with the Queen Mary's Army Auxiliary Corps through WW1, his father William James Dunn was Bandmaster of the Second Battalion King's Royal Rifle Corps and later appointed Director of Music of the Royal Horse Guards. Vivian was raised with his younger brother Brian, who also became an accomplished conductor and a student of the Royal Academy of Music. As a young boy, Vivian studied piano with his mother Beatrice Maud and undertook choral studies at Winchester. In 1923, while the family was stationed in Germany with the Army of the Rhine, he studied at the Hochschule für Musik Köln and on their return home two years later he attended the Royal Academy of Music, where he studied conducting with Henry Wood and composition with Walton O’Donnell. As a violinist, he performed with the Queen’s Hall Promenade Orchestra under the baton of Henry Wood and in 1930, he became a founder member of the BBC Symphony Orchestra… the task of assembling and training the orchestra fell to the BBC's director of music, Adrian Boult, who became its chief conductor.
In 1931, Vivian Dunn was released from his contract with the BBC and on 3rd September aged just 22, he was commissioned as a Lieutenant in the Band of His Majesty’s Royal Marines to become Director of Music for Portsmouth Division, a post that also included directing the Royal Marines Band onboard the Royal Yacht… he succeeded Captain R P O’Donnell, who moved on to the Royal Air Force Band. The fresh-faced Lt Dunn was a tall handsome man with his dark head of hair Brylcreemed back. He was much younger than many of his musicians under his leadership and was able to overcome any banter that came his way. He made great strides with the Portsmouth Division band in the early thirties and indeed tickets were much sought after throughout the decade. Vivian’s Portsmouth Municipal Concerts made him a respected figure amongst the people of Portsmouth, many of the orchestral concerts were performed at the Theatre Royal and the delightful Kings Theatre in Albert Road, Southsea, which originally had a capacity of over two thousand. Lt Dunn was also instrumental in the development of The City of Portsmouth Orchestra and led them on many occasions. He conducted the Portsmouth Bach Society and was occasionally guest conductor, along with his brother Brian at concerts given by his father Captain William J Dunn MVO MC and his orchestra. Vivian’s band played at the grand opening ceremony of the Portsmouth Odeon in 1936.
Vivian was originally engaged to be married in 1936 to Eileen Frances King from Bristol, but for a reason unknown, the engagement didn’t last very long and Eileen went on to marry a Lieutenant from the RNR in 1940. Vivian married Southsea girl Margery ‘Mike’ Halliday on 30th April 1938 at St Andrews Church in Eastney.. the Royal Marines Church at the time, of course the music for the service was provided by the Royal Marines Band Portsmouth Division. The couple who made their home at Coombe Down, Hambledon went on to have three children: Leonie arrived in 1940, Patrick was born in 1942 and Rosemary in 1945.
In 1939, Lt Dunn was awarded the Member
of the Victorian Order in the New Years honours, before accompanying
the King on his trip to America… shortly afterwards he was promoted
to Captain. He was rewarded with further promotion to Major in 1946,
before he took part in the royal tour of South Africa in 1947 aboard
HMS Vanguard. As part of the reorganisation of the bands that same year,
Portsmouth Division Band was re-branded as The Band of HM Royal Marines
Portsmouth Group. The band had the honour of playing at the Royal Command
Performance at the London Coliseum, before they carried out a tour of
the U.S. and Canada in 1949, which included performances at the National
Exhibition in Toronto.
Following his appointment as Principal Director of Music of the Royal Marines, Fred (as the ranks of the Band Service often referred to him), oversaw the complete restructuring of the Royal Marines Band Service against considerable opposition… He and his family took up occupancy of G House in North Barracks, where they resided throughout their time at Deal. In 1955, Sir Vivian Dunn was asked by Euan Lloyd of Warwick Films to compose the theme music for The Cockleshell Heroes. In 1960, Vivian was rewarded with an OBE, and in 1964 at the request of Mountbatten, Vivian updated the 1934 arrangement of the Preobrajensky March to commemorate the Tercentenary of the founding of the Corps. Mountbatten presented the score to the Corps' Captain General, Prince Philip. His arrangement was first performed at the Beating Retreat Ceremony at Horse Guards Parade, London on 10th June 1964 and officially adopted as the regimental slow march of the Royal Marines… Mountbatten personally inscribed the music score. The evening was notable as being the largest Royal Marines Band ever assembled, totalling eleven bands and 387 Ranks. Mountbatten wrote to Sir Vivian and said "I think the 'Dunned Up' version of the Preobrajensky March is really excellent. “I was standing next to The Queen and Her Majesty thought it quite outstanding and most moving.”
Sir Vivian Dunn appeared conducting the Royal Marines, in the end titles of the 1966 film ‘Thunderbirds Are Go’, a cherry picker was used for filming and the PDM insisted on being on the crane itself. But every time he began conducting, the camera rocked and as he got more excited with the music, the camera rocked more and more to the point where the crew thought they were going to come off the crane, hence the director had to ask him if he could conduct from the floor instead.
Following a glittering thirty-seven-year
career, Lt Colonel Vivian Dunn retired from the Royal Marines Band Service
on 24th December 1968… his sixtieth birthday. During his tenure
as Principal Director of Music, he led the Massed Bands at the 1956,
the 1962 and 1965 Edinburgh Military Tattoo’s and the Royal Tournaments
at Earls Court in 1957, 1960, 1962, 1964 and finally 1968. He held the
baton during Beating Retreat on Horseguard’s Parade in 1958, 1960,
1964 and 1967. Sir Vivian was instrumental in the production of the
many 1960’s various singles and LP’s mainly with HMV and
He had composed and arranged over sixty
pieces of music, several are marches and many with Royal Marines connections,
In 1969, Earl Mountbatten presented Sir
Vivian with an EMI Golden Disc for sales of over one million Royal Marines
Band records. In that year he was also elected as an honorary member
of the American Bandmasters Association.
In 1976, Sir Vivian assisted in the foundation of the International Military Music Society of which he became President. He had started working on a suite for orchestra and concert band in 1979 in honour of Earl Mountbatten, but his murder on 27th August 1979 deeply affected him, he had lost not only a mentor, but a close friend and ally… however, Mountbatten's untimely death did spur him on to complete the Mountbatten Suite. A few months later.. Sir Vivian made an appearance as guest conductor at the 1980 Mountbatten Concerts, which were dedicated to Earl Mountbatten. In 1987, he received the Sudler Medal of the Order of Merit from the John Philip Sousa Foundation and in 1988, after serving as the Senior Warden, he became the first military musician installed as the Master of the Worshipful Company of Musicians the first military musician to receive such an honour. He returned to Deal in 1989 as inspecting officer at the annual prize giving, when he presented the Northbourne Cup for the best new entry to Junior Musician Jon Ridley, who ironically was destined to become a PDM.
Sir Vivian Dunn was diagnosed with lung cancer but was still able to conduct the Central Band of the Royal Air Force in one of his own compositions in June 1994. The great man’s final assignment was to take the salute at the Royal Marines Band Service Reunion on South Drill Field on 25th September 1994, when the Staff Band Corps of Drums fronted the Junior Band, (I remember it well as I occupied a position in the front rank… it was my final ever gig in the Band Service before redundancy).
Lt Colonel Sir Vivian Dunn sadly passed away in Haywards Heath, Sussex on 3rd April 1995 aged 86. At his funeral service, The Royal Marines Orchestra and Buglers gave him a fitting send off. A memorial service for Sir Vivian was held at St Martin-in-the-Fields in London on 7th July 1995. Lady Dunn passed away on 26th June 1998, they are buried together at Cemetery Chapel, located in East Mascalls Lane, Great Walstead.
The Biography of Lt Col Sir Vivian Dunn, Fiddler on the March was written by Derek Oakley and published in 2000. Sir Vivian’s daughters Leonie and Rosemary returned to G House in North Barracks in 2014, for the unveiling of a blue plaque by the Deal Historical Society. His son, Major ‘Paddy’ Dunn MBE RM sadly passed away in 2018.
RIP Sir Vivian and Lady Dunn