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Obituary: Garry Brown

Garry Brown was one of the most prolific, popular and respected agents of his generation. During his three decades-plus association with Cunard Line, he was, many waggishly observed, the man to turn to when you found yourself all at sea. He was equally dependable on dry land, spending 17 years with hotel company Hilton International.

Tireless, enthusiastic and with an encyclopaedic knowledge of British light entertainers, coupled with an unwavering determination to champion them on the international cruise and leisure circuits, Brown was admired as much for always finding the time to listen and talk to clients and would-be clients as for his acute business acumen.

From 1975 until the late 1990s, he wrote for The Stage, contributing informed articles and offering advice about all aspects of entertaining on the high seas.

A trombonist like his father and grandfather, Brown became a professional musician at the age of 15 with the Charles Amer Band at the Butlins holiday camp in Filey. After national service, he rejoined Amer’s band and went on to play with a number of others, including those led by Oscar Rabin, George Evans and Harry Hayes.

Brown spent six years with the Johnny Dankworth Big Band and was involved in several recordings, including the 1956 hit Experiments with Mice. He made his last live appearance with them at the 1959 Newport Jazz Festival, when The New York Times rated the ensemble alongside Count Basie’s and Duke Ellington’s.

For a short time, Brown managed Dankworth’s band, the Dave Clark Five and Dudley Moore (in his jazz-pianist period). He spent two and a half years fronting his own 12-piece band, Garry Brown and His Swingin’ Sound, for Mecca at the Royal Court Ballroom, Tottenham. He also appeared on BBC television’s Come Dancing and presented his own lunchtime radio series, Things are Swinging.

As a director with Rank Leisure in the 1960s, his responsibilities included the company’s ballrooms chain, for which he scored an early coup in booking the pre-fame Beatles at a budget-price fee for concerts that lucratively happened after the group became a pop phenomenon.

He proved equally prescient about the growing importance of disc jockeys, contesting a landmark dispute with the Musicians Union in 1963 when he championed Tony Prince’s ambition to be both a musician and a DJ, and challenged restrictions on the playing of records in dance halls.

In 1971, he formed his own agency, Garry Brown Associates International, which had substantial overseas links as far afield as New Zealand. As sole agent to Ladbroke Holidays and the Cunard Line, he regularly booked more than 600 solo artists (including Tom Jones, Shirley Bassey, Bill Cosby, Neil Diamond, Vic Damone, Count Basie and Charles Aznavour) and more than 150 ensembles and lecturers each year.

A fellow of the Institute of Directors since 1975, in recent years Brown continued booking artists and groups for Saga Cruises through his own management company.

He married Phyllis Norman (one half of double act the Tracy Sisters, with Sheila Tracy, who was also a contributor to The Stage and herself died in September) in 1951 and was widowed in 1975. In 1982, he married the American singer-actress Lorna Dallas.

Arthur Garry Brown was born in Hartlepool on August 21, 1928. He died, aged 86, on October 28. He is survived by his second wife and two children from his first marriage.

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