Cecil Armstrong Gibbs was born into a family business, D. & W. Gibbs, soap and toothpaste manufacturers, known for Gibbs SR toothpaste, the first product ever advertised on UK commercial television, and later known as Mentadent. At Cambridge, he studied composition with Edward J. Dent and counterpoint with Charles Wood. Spurning the family business, and following a spell as a schoolmaster, Gibbs responded to a plea from Adrian Boult to become a mature student at the Royal College of Music. There he studied with Vaughan Williams before the College appointed him to its staff.
He was to become an extremely prolific composer, working in a wide range of genres. This included a substantial number of solo and part songs, a significant contribution to church music, works for chorus and orchestra, works for the stage and for film, full-scale orchestral music of many kinds, solo piano and organ music, and chamber music that includes some twelve string quartets and a number of works that have a string quartet as an accompanying texture.
It is an immense and broad output, and might make one wonder when he had time to do anything else. Yet he was also a crucial and leading figure in the Music Festival movement, a driving force in the remarkable improvement of standards in music education and performance in the United Kingdom that changed the musical life of the country out of all recognition, but risks being thrown away in our own times.
He was also a particularly significant figure in the musical life of his native Essex, especially in Danbury, where he and his family went to live, and where he was active in setting up and conducting for many years a very well-regarded choral society.
During his latter years, clearly the result of a major cultural reaction to the horrors of World War II, the serious music world abandoned composers such as Gibbs for more than half a century. Only now are they being reassessed — and not before time.