Remembering Tony Fell

Tony Fell 1931-2011 (RPS Chairman 1997-2005)
Tony Fell 1931-2011
(RPS Chairman 1997-2005)

In the middle of 1998 I was on maternity leave – I had two very small children: there was NO WAY I was looking for a full time job. Chatting one day to Tony about the intrigues of Robert Kraft and Stravinsky (good gossip), I found myself enquiring idly how on earth he’d got himself involved with the Royal Philharmonic Society – an organisation which, I felt at that time, seemed rather tired.

Tony didn’t waste time. Within 15 minutes his ebullient enthusiasm had convinced me both that the RPS was at heart a radical, progressive organisation with a real potential to make its mark on classical music, and also, somehow, that I would be doing him an extraordinary favour by coming for an interview for the post of Administrator. To my astonishment I found myself agreeing – (albeit rather weakly).

What appealed to me about his approach was his absolute ability to cut through red tape: to know what was important and to see how to make it happen. It was a breath of fresh air for me and for the dusty RPS which he quickly licked in to shape and moved firmly into the 21st century.

We soon established a modus operandi – Tony was my constant sounding board and my ideas were greeted with huge positivity and energy; or alternatively, kindly but firm dissuasion: he was a gentle mentor. I on the other hand learned to respond to random, rapid and unexpected questions from the unfathomability of Microsoft to the best place to buy muslin for culinary purposes.

He believed in the new and the young; and he believed that the RPS could (and should) help and inspire them both. He was endlessly open, curious, excited and appreciative. He was generous and kind (but never wanted to be noticed being so.) He was pragmatic and fearless. If Tony had not thought of selling the RPS archive to the British Library (which both made that valuable resource available to scholars worldwide and bailed the RPS out of a deep financial hole) there simply would not be an RPS now. I for one think that, thanks to Tony, we might have been missed.

The presentation of RPS Honorary Member to Tony last year was an apt and joyful occasion though he himself seemed mildly perplexed by the fuss! From Carl Maria von Weber in 1826 onward, all Honorary Members, whatever their musical role, have in common that they have made a difference to music. Tony made an enormous difference: to music, to the RPS, to me, and to more people in the music world than he can have possibly imagined.

Rosemary Johnson