New College of the Humanities

Cairo's Music For All

Ivor Wynne Jones on how a dusty garage in Cairo was once the unlikely setting for keeping up British morale with 'Music for All'.

An old 750-seat cinema in Cairo's Marouf Street became the unlikely repository for a burst of cultural activity among the British conscripts stationed in the city during the Second World War. Still fondly remembered as 'Music for All', it was the creation of Lady Dorothea Russell Pasha, wife of the city's police chief between 1917-46, Sir Thomas Wentworth Russell Pasha.

Technically never at war and never bombed – with Rommel's Afrika Korps on its doorstep and well outside the Suez Canal Zone which had been retained as a British base under the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936 – wartime 'neutral' Cairo was a city where the lights never went out.

With its enormous garrison of 140,000 British troops, Cairo's role as the intelligence and operational HQ for the Mediterranean, the Balkans and the Arab world, had concentrated a khaki-clad entrepreneurial cross-section of intellectual Britons in the city. Some devoted their energies to the creation of maverick military units like Popski's Private Army, the Long Range Desert Group, the SAS, an Anglo-Egyptian strand of what became the Forces Broadcasting Service (where Raymond Baxter was to cut his teeth, reading NAAFI News), and the Desert Purchasing Organisation – a mini-Harrods where soldiers could buy gold, silver, ivory, leather and silk souvenirs totally unrelated to the realities of war just a few miles away.

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