E.S. “Teddy” Teale’s short period as General Secretary had the misfortune of coinciding with both the worst crisis in the Union’s history (the advent of the “Talkies”) and the deterioration of his health to the point he was unable to work.
In spite of this, his contribution to the early years of the Union was second only to that of Williams. Born in Manchester in 1861, he studied in Yorkshire before becoming a theatre musician, working at the scene of another 1890s industrial conflict, the Royal Court Theatre in Liverpool.
This resulted in his joining the Union, becoming Assistant General Secretary in 1896, the first paid (albeit part-time) official besides the General Secretary. This post became full time in 1910 and he was widely credited as being the organisational mastermind of the Union. Harry Francis, writing about him in the Musicians’ Journal of April 1931 refer to his “genius for office detail, method, organisation.”
While he was well suited to this secondary or background role, recollections of his period as General Secretary suggest that he found the transition to leadership difficult. In contrast to Williams, Teale was 63 at the time he assumed power and had to battle with both the scale of the challenges facing him and his health.
“for 18 years he had been used to the methodical routine of the office administration of the Union, practically taking all instructions from Williams, with little opportunity of exercising his own will or individuality. When he stepped into the General Secretaryship he was 63 years of age – five years older than Williams was at his death.”
By 1929, at the height of the “talkies” crisis, Teale’s health limited his involvement in day to day matters and his assistant (and successor), Fred Dambman, took on many of his duties. According to Francis, “the strain became too much for him. He went on sick leave, and save for one or two rallies, he was never the same man, and as leader he was lost to us.” Despite this, he was still able to contribute a series of lengthy articles on the history of the AMU, which were published in the Musicians’ Journal in 1929 and 1930.
By late 1930 he was completely unable to fulfil official duties, before his death on 7th February 1931. Perhaps the unfulfilled nature of his tenure as General Secretary was best summarised in Francis’ obituary:
“Had Teale been a younger man when he stepped into the breach, or had been equipped with a stronger constitution, he would probably have shone brilliantly.”