HAROLD WILMOT

PIONEERS

Immortalised by a classic black and white photograph of three MV Empire Windrush arrivals, Harold Wilmot would go on to find fame as a member of The Southlanders, one of Britain’s most popular vocal quartets during the 1950s

1918-1961

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Dressed in a smart zoot suit and appearing relaxed, Harold Wilmot does not look as though he had spent the last few weeks travelling across the Atlantic on the MV Empire Windrush. He is one of the many passengers captured by awaiting camera men after arriving at Tilbury Docks. The picture has been shown countless times to symbolise the first of the Windrush generation.

Aged 30 and described on the passenger list as a case maker, Harold already had experience of Britain, having volunteered for the Royal Air Force four years earlier in 1944. Like thousands of other young men he’d seen an advert in Jamaica’s Daily Gleaner and applied to join the RAF. Having passed the test and medical examination, he underwent initial training in Kingston, before setting sail for England.

Prior to joining the RAF, he’d been in the business of making neckties and so, after being demobbed, he took a course in manufacturing brief cases and suitcases. But back home in Jamaica in 1947, his new venture collapsed and when the opportunity came to sail on the MV Empire Windrush he jumped at it.

His brother Allan was already in Britain but couldn’t help him out with any accommodation. So alongside 235 other men, he stayed in Clapham South Deep Shelter in south London until he found work at a factory in Birmingham.

With Allan, Harold became a founder member of The Southlanders, a male singing quartet that shared the stage with some of the country’s biggest stars, including Shirley Bassey and Tommy Cooper. They enjoyed chart success in the 1950s and early ‘60s, most memorably with the novelty hit song ‘I am a mole and I live in a hole’. In terms of chart success, ‘Alone’ reached No.17 in December 1957.

Harold wanted a keepsake for his time in show business and he took the unusual step of taking a tablecloth with him to every venue at which he appeared asking other artistes to autograph it. Settling in Lambeth, south London, with his English wife, he had two sons. One of them, Gary, inherited his father’s talents and continues to be a well-known entertainer in the UK. Harold died of a brain tumour in 1961.

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