He is the figure of happiness in British music. His gifts are as natural as Schubert's; his melody and harmonic invention is [sic] of the charming order.
Holbrooke, writing in the early 1920s, included these lines at the beginning of the chapter on Bridge in his Contemporary British Composers.1 His evidence lay in Bridge's earlier music; he recognized the fluency of ideas, the relaxed lyricism, the direct appeal. He might also have become aware through hearsay of Bridge's high spirits, his tomfoolery that had inspired the amusing sketches at meetings of the 'Beloved Vagabonds' and at the Royal College of Music Union's 'At Homes'. If Holbrooke had read many of Bridge's letters he would have noticed some of the whimsical drawings, such as the one of 'the Co-operative, Mutual and Reciprocal, Reversible and Obversible Cos Patent Lovepotionshower SPRAYER. For Sale only - not on hire. Price = Prohibitive';2 or he might have come across a playful idea:
I have already a half cooked scheme of my own for writing music. A kind of hat-band which is plentifully smeared on the inside with fly-paper gum, and when the inspirations arrive it is placed round the head, when the inspirations depart, it is taken off, pressed in one of the ordinary letter-copying-presses, and there it is!3
Bridge could indeed be a 'figure of happiness', his high spirits finding an outlet in his sense of humour. Daphne Oliver, a close neighbour during the 1930s, remembers how amused he was when she referred to Schubert's Death and the Maiden String Quartet as 'Death and the Major'. When she realized that something was not quite right, she offered as her second attempt 'Death and the Minor', provoking further amusement. She described Bridge as having a predominantly gentle disposition, never a bully, and if ever cross, would temper annoyance with laughter.4 He was full of vitality, his abundant nervous energy finding release not only in his musical activities and high spirits but in talking. According to Ethel Bridge: 'You know Frank's trouble - he was vaccinated with a gramophone needle!'5