Composer Paul Ferris was born Richard Paul Ferris on May 2nd 1941 in Corby Northamptonshire, England. It is probably true to say that Ferris is better known as a composer for his beautiful but also sinister sounding soundtrack to the Vincent Price horror movie THE WITCHFINDER GENERAL which was directed by filmmaker Michael reeves and released in 1968. The movie has since its release attracted much attention from cinema goers, film buffs and critics alike and when discussing this classic British movie the musical score by Ferris is always mentioned. The score and the film reaching cult status in recent years. The film which was set in the uncertain times of the English civil war tells the story of Matthew Hopkins a self appointed official who rides around the English countryside exposing so called witches and their accomplices or servants of the Devil was at first frowned upon by many but also was hailed as a masterpiece by others, and has in recent years emerged as one of the more credible horror movies of the 1960,s and certainly one of Vincent Price’s best movies. The film also starred a fresh faced Ian Ogilvy, Nicky Henson, Rupert Davies and introduced to cinema goers the beautiful Hilary Dwyer. Other actors involved were Robert Russell, Wilfred Brambell and in the role of Oliver Cromwell. Patrick Wymark. A few years ago, more than 20 actually, it was revealed the De Wolfe music had the entire score for the movie within its vast archive, an LP record of the music had been released previously but only to radio stations etc for promotional purposes. The album which also contained sections from THE CURSE OF THE CRIMSON ALTAR by Peter Knight, soon became a rarity and a holy grail for many collectors of film music, probably more for the Ferris score if the true be known. A single record was released which included a cover version of the theme from the movie by Roberto Mann and his orchestra, but this too faded into obscurity and was deleted from the catalogue too soon. In 1995 Silva Screen commissioned Philip Lane to reconstruct parts of the score and to create a 7 minute suite of themes from the Ferris soundtrack for inclusion on the labels HORROR compilation. I was present at the recording of this suite and was amazed at the sound that was achieved by the orchestra who were performing it, which was THE WESTMINSTER PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA under the baton of seasoned conductor and arranger, Kenneth Alwyn. I sat in the middle of the orchestra and just listened, it was a great experience and one I will never forget. The music kind of drove me to learn more about the composer, who had sadly passed away just a month previous to this recording.
Information was a little sparse to say the least, but eventually thanks to PRS I received a phone call from the composers widow, who helped me to gather some information and then I approached DE WOLFE MUSIC, asking them if the score could be released as a fitting tribute to the composer, the obvious label at that time to release the score was of course Silva Screen and David Stoner of the label was more than enthusiastic, but all efforts on my behalf and also by David on behalf of Silva Screen failed and De Wolfe were adamant they would release the score themselves very soon. 1998, still no release of the score, enter then GDI with its Hammer compilations and also full score releases, again I went to De Wolfe about WITCHFINDER, but to no avail, 15 years on and we are still waiting, true it is now more likely that the soundtrack will be released by De Wolfe as they have advertised this fact on their website. So maybe after a wait of 45 years, this classic score will be available to collectors, we will see.
Paul Ferris became involved in writing for films in 1966,when he penned the soundtrack for SHE BEAST a Michael Reeves low budget affair which starred screen icon Barbara Steele who had starred in numerous Italian horror movies and was a favourite of Mario Bava, Reeves followed Bava’s way of working and wanted Steele to have the central part in his first motion picture. Reeves shot the movie in Italy and asked his good friend Ian Ogilvy be one of the films main characters. The score that Ferris composed was not an outstanding one, but it served the picture well. This led to Ferris scoring THE SORCERERS again starring Ogilvy with Reeves at the directorial helm and vintage actor Boris Karloff taking a leading role. In 1968 director Vernon Sewell enlisted the musical expertise of Ferris on his BLOOD BEAST TERROR, which starred Peter Cushing, Robert Flemyng and Wanda Ventham. The next assignment was WITCHFINDER GENERAL, the composer providing the film with a beautiful central theme that also doubled as a love theme. Ferris also starred in the movie, a minor role in which he portrayed the husband of a young girl that The Witchfinder burns at the stake, his character Paul Clark goes to the inn where Hopkins (Price) is staying with the intent to kill him, but Hopkins shoots Clark in the chest close range killing him. Ferris adopted the name of Morris Jar for the part as a homage to his favourite composer Maurice Jarre.
Actor Nicky Henson who was a great friend of both Ferris and Ogilvy told me that when the scene was shot it was hard for the actors to keep a straight face, “There was Paul covered in blood laying at the bottom of the stairs supposedly drawing his last breath and we were laughing, if you look at the film very closely you may even catch us smilingPaul had acted previous to this, and was a regular in television shows such as THE BARON in which he portrayed David Marlowe, who was John Mannering’s assistant and also had parts in the police series, NO HIDING PLACE and DIXON OF DOCK GREEN as well as a small part in the 1967 James Bond spoof CASINO ROYALE. During the 1960,s Ferris also penned the hit VISIONS for Cliff Richard, and his theme for MAROC 7, was performed by The Shadows in 1967. His career as a composer continued in 1970, when he scored CLEGG but after this he worked mainly on shorts until 1973 when he wrote the soundtrack for THE CREEPING FLESH, two years later he worked on PERSECUTION and that is the last movie he scored. I was told by Nicky Henson that Paul worked as many things after this, at one time he was a sea captain and also drove articulated lorries for a living, he even sold fish and chips, “Paul always worked, and what ever he did he did well” remembers Mr Henson. Paul became ill and was diagnosed with the debilitating and depressing disease Huntington’s Chorea, which meant in his last few years of life that he was unable to work. On October 30th 1995 the composer was found dead in his Bristol flat, at an inquest which was held on January 30th 1996, the coroner arrived at a verdict of suicide by drug overdose. He was 54. Nicky Henson spoke of this. “Paul took medication for his condition, and I know he did not take his own life, this was an unhappy accident. I think Paul had simply forgotten that he had taken his medication and took it again”.
If Paul Ferris had lived, who knows what he might have done,i would like to think that he would have returned to writing music for film.