William Robert Waterhouse 18 February 1931 – 5 November 2007


a tribute from his sister Eliza

My first memory of Bill is watching this tiny tot in his high chair, singing – before he could talk. He managed to say ‘lovely song’ (he meant tune).

I attended a small prep school and went ‘mornings only’ (there were no nursery schools in those days). I ran home to lunch and sat Bill – aged about 3 – at the kitchen table and proceeded to teach him all I had learnt in the morning. By the time Bill was ready for school he could read, write and do ‘sums’. Our mother thought this was hilarious but I couldn't see anything funny . . .

Mother was an amateur musician, playing the violin in an orchestra which performed at the Crystal Palace. She delighted in Bill's aptitude for music. We children – my three brothers and myself – were all made to learn to play the piano. When Bill was doing so well and was so keen, Mother allowed me to give up the piano (I always hated it).

The Second World War started in September 1939, and Bill was attached to my schoolgirl group at the Old Palace School in Croydon to be transported to Eastbourne on the day after war broke out. We were billeted with two ladies – an elderly mother and middle-aged daughter – who regarded coping with us for a few months as their supreme war effort. They were kind to us but treated as major disasters our modelling a face in a cake of soap, or getting wet on a walk along the promenade. We were back home by Christmas when our schools re-opened.

In June 1940, when Hitler invaded Holland and Belgium and dangerous times were approaching, Bill and I were evacuated again – this time to Barnstaple, Devon. I was old enough to enjoy this as an exciting adventure but Bill was homesick. Our first letter home, lovingly treasured by Mother, included the memorable sentence: ‘Yesterday we stood a foot away from a cow!’ We moved to separate billets and the ‘Auntie and Uncle’ Bill we stayed with had no piano. I dont know how Mother organised it, but Bill was able to continue his piano lessons and practise on the piano next door.

Our father died in 1942 and Bill stayed in Devon for another year or so. He then became a pupil at Whitgift School in Croydon. Our two older brothers, Jack and Dick, had been there and were both brilliant athletes. They were in all the teams and were photographed wearing sumptuous blazers and caps with tassels. Bill was in a different category, having little appetite for games – but he found his niche playing organ for school prayers.

He obtained a place at the College of Music leaving Whitgift without taking Higher Schools (the equivalent of A levels) and being reprimanded by his form master for being ‘a little fool’. Bill studied under Archie Camden who was the foremost bassoon player at the time (late 1940s). After one year Bill had to do his National Service and joined the RAF Central Band. He professed to have hated every minute of this part of his life, and no doubt it was a change from the Royal College. The conductor of the Central Band (with the rank of Wing Commander) gave orders one day to play ‘The Over-chewer to the E-brydes’, which phrase passed into our family joke book.

On leaving the RAF and finishing his studies at the Royal College, Bill joined the Covent Garden Orchestra. About two years later he took a job with the Italian-Swiss Radio Orchestra in Lugano, Switzerland. He loved being in this part of the world, improved his French and German, learnt to drive, and was able to explore northern Italy to his heart’s content.

Back in England Bill joined the BBC Symphony Orchestra, (I think he was ‘head­hunted’) and his contract allowed time for other musical activities including the Melos Ensemble. Bill loved travelling, visiting art galleries and historic sites, collecting books and musical instruments – especially old bassoons. I teased Bill but had enormous respect for his scholarship.

In 1961 Bill and Elisabeth Ritchie were married and they set up home in Highgate. There were three children - Graham, Celia and Lucy – who now have children of their own. When Graham was about seven years old he and I had a day together in London, visiting Madame Tussaud's with its figures of historic and popular interest. Graham asked innocently: ‘What are the Beatles?’ I felt that there could hardly be a child in the wide world (except Bill's of course) who could ask that question.

In 1965 he was invited to join the BBC Symphony Orchestra and stayed for 17 years. During this time Bill travelled by an early train from London to Manchester once a week to the Royal Northern College of Music. He gave a day of lessons to individual bassoon students.

In the late 1960s a friend in the Cotswold area advised Bill and Lis that a cottage was for sale. The estate agent said that if they wanted to look over the building there was no need for a key ‘just step through the gap’ (left by vandals who had stolen the doors). The isolated house was two semi-detached farm workers' cottages dating from the mid 19th century. The only ‘mod-con’ was a lean-to bread oven; a two-seater privy was under a nearby tree. Water could be pumped from an artesian well in an adjoining field (by permission of the local fanner). But the glorious Cotswolds scenery was all around!

Over the years Bill and Lis were able to put money into ‘Whitehall Farm Cottages’ – now known as Whittall – and the building has gradually become warm, dry and electrically lit to modern standards of comfort. An old photograph showed that there had been a cattle-shed some yards from the house and a few years ago Bill and Lis secured planning permission to build the traditional-style barn which is now an important feature of the property.

Bill was always very fit, had no illnesses, rode a motorbike, went on deep-sea diving expeditions in the Persian Gulf, and used his swimming pool daily. He lived life to the full and was on holiday with members of the family when he collapsed and was taken to hospital in Florence. He was in intensive care for just a few days before he died peacefully. He will be sorely missed by the family and his many worldwide friends and colleagues. He leaves an unfillable gap in our lives.

It was a privilege to have been Bill’s sister.