If I was to be asked to name one film studio that I thought had shaped the minds and also captured the hearts of a nation I think it must be honest and say Ealing studios and the films they produced throughout the 1930’s through to the 1950’s. But let us also not forget the other film studios that were active in Gt Britain during the 1930’s right through until the 1970.s. There are within this collection of motion pictures many titles that are now regarded as classics, and for me anyway they became essential weekend afternoon viewing on the television making empty Saturday afternoons and late Saturdays nights that extended into Sunday more bearable. When I was younger and right up to the 1980,s I would say, there was at least one British made black and white film production being shown on the television every week, whether it was on the BBC or the Independent channels in the UK. Stars (I mean real stars) such as Alec Guinness, Alistair Simms, Hugh Griffith, Stanley Holloway, Thora Hird, Benny Hill, Peggy Cummings and David Niven all featured. And via these and other convincing performances by so many iconic actors we as a movie going audience started to build up an affection with not only the films, but the ever familiar faces that we saw on screen, and I think this is an affection that continues to this day and has been passed down to younger generations.
Their style and mostly their humour transcended into later productions and influenced films such as THOSE MAGNIFICENT MENT IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES, MONTE CARLO OR BUST and to a degree films such as THE OBLONG BOX and TV shows like HERES HARRY, HANCOCKS HALF HOUR and BOOTSIE AND SNUDGE and even maybe went a little further in 1970’s sit coms such as ON THE BUSES, BLESS THIS HOUSE and GEORGE AND MILDRED. The same can be said for dramas thrillers and horrors they were produced during this furtive period and certainly the war movies such as REACH FOR THE SKY, THE CRUEL SEA and I WAS MONTYS DOUBLE to name three had a lasting influence on later productions such as WHERE EAGLES DARE, 633 SQUADRON and their like.
To pick out one or even two films and mark them as superior or as favourites I think is almost impossible, the quality and inventiveness of the productions being second to none, whether they be comedies, dramas or of any subject matter. Only the other night Talking pictures the TV channel, screened GUNS IN THE DARKNESS (1962) which was a great movie, starring Leslie Caron, David Niven and the wonderful James Robinson Justice, a lesser known example of British film drama but one that was well acted, wonderfully directed and scored by Benjamin Frankel. The film was directed by Anthony Asquith, and produced by Associated British Pictures, and Cavalcade films.
The British studios that were active in the aforementioned decades commissioned many great composers to score the movies that they released, Sir William Walton for example and George Auric, John Addison, Ernest Irving, Eric Rogers are all names that featured on the credits of many of these movies, and later as the 1950’s unfolded composers such as James Bernard, Richard Rodney Bennet, Malcolm Williamson, Clifton Parker, etc began to also feature in films produced by the likes of Hammer Pictures who were re-inventing many of what were seen as classic horror tales as produced originally by Universal in the U.S.A.
So, I thought it might be interesting to look at these studios and also investigate the films and the musical heritage left by them. A heritage that was created by so many talented composers, who were in certain cases at the early stages of their careers and some accidentally at times stumbling into film music composition because of their ties with so called serious music. Mention Ealing, British lion, Renown etc and people straight away think of the many comedies that they released, but it was not all about comedy, one movie that has lodged in my memory is WENT THE DAY WELL? A war movie with a difference, and one I am certain inspired the author Jack Higgins to write his novel THE EAGLE HAS LANDED.
Released in May 1942 whilst the second world war was still being fought, the movie was directed by Alberto Cavalcanti, based upon a story by Graham Greene, with a score composed by Sir William Walton. It Focuses upon a small English village, BRAMBLEY END where the war seems to be almost put on a back burner, until that is it is taken over by German Paratroopers, who arrive in the village disguised as typical British tommy’s, the movie was a semi unofficial propaganda film, produced by Michael Balcon and displayed the real fear that many British people felt at the time of a German invasion, although by the time the film was released these concerns had somewhat dissipated, because the Battle of Britain had been fought in the skies some two years previous and any real threat of invasion had been averted. Nonetheless WENT THE DAY WELL? Was a masterful and a gripping piece of cinema.
The score by Walton was quite sparse, in that there was not a great deal of music in the movie, but Walton was known at times to write short scores and use his music sparingly not swamping the movie he was working on with music, allowing the actors and the storyline to grow, and the audience to absorb the films ongoing story. In Hollywood however the style was the opposite for many productions, with many American composers doing the opposite and almost smothering films with music, at times the score running continuously, like a musical wallpaper, that did not support or enhance, but was just in effect there.
The style that Walton employed on many movies from this period would eventually deal him a great blow in the late 1960’s when because of the composers meticulous and precise way of writing which was time consuming and also for producing a score of a short running time led to his work for THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN being rejected by the film’s producers, with only one cue remaining on the finished print which was BATTLE IN THE AIR, the remainder of the score being written by composer Ron Goodwin. In later years, many aficionados of movie music agreed that the Walton score was a worthy addition to the composers already impressive canon. With the DVD of the film being released containing both the Goodwin and Walton scores available for the viewer to listen to and reach their own conclusion, the rejection and replacing of the score was done so quickly that a number of prints of the movie were released into British cinemas crediting Walton for the score that was conducted by Malcolm Arnold.
British studios produced so many movies that I think we have to agree are classics, they are films that are iconic and also important within the history of cinema, many being simple romps that were a slice of escapism, with other examples at times being based upon true events and were seen as not only entertaining and informative but thought provoking. Then there were other examples such as the Ealing picture DEAD OF NIGHT, released in 1945, this is a horror anthology, which included four different stories, directed by Alberto Cavalcanti, Basil Dearden, Charles Crichton and Robert Hamer, four filmmakers that figured large in the Ealing studios output.
The movie had a strong cast that included, Googie Withers, Sally Ann Howes, Michael Redgrave and Mervyn Jones. The film is still today hailed as a remarkable and unsettling piece of cinema, the concluding section of the movie, which features an evil ventriloquists dummy being the most memorable and harrowing. It is true to say that DEAD OF NIGHT was the inspiration for the handful of horror anthologies that were produced in later years by the likes of Hammer, Tyburn and Amicus films as in VAULT OF HORROR. The last story in the quartet of films also it is said served as inspiration for later movies such as MAGIC, which starred Anthony Hopkins.
During the war years films that were of the Horror variety were banned from being produced, so Ealing were treading on unfamiliar ground with DEAD OF NIGHT, but it was a gamble that paid off as the film is probably one of the most successful British films from the 1940’s. Although the movie was essentially a horror picture, it did contain elements of comedy, which is what Ealing became more remembered for.
The music for DEAD OF NIGHT was the work of French born composer George Auric, who also became a music critic, he scored a number of movies for Ealing studios, many of them such as PASSPORT TO PIMLICO, HUE AND CRY, THE LAVENDER HILL MOB and THE TITFIELD THUNDERBOLT, becoming firm favourites of cinema audiences. But he was not under contract to score just films produced by British studios, the composer wrote the soundtracks for a wide variety of movies and worked in France on BEAUTY AND THE BEAST and wrote a suitably majestic and romantic soundtrack for CAESER AND CLEOPATRA in 1945, as well as scoring MOULIN ROGUE for John Huston and in 1961 produced a superb score for THE INNOCENTS a screenplay adapted from the story THE TURN OF THE SCREW and directed by Jack Clayton, it starred Deborah Kerr. I was always attracted to the music of Auric, I remember that he utilised solo trumpet a great deal within his scores as well as strings.
The composer had a style which I considered to be rather like that of Walton, but at times when required he could adapt and alter his style and the sound achieved became a little more flamboyant.
He displayed a great versatility in his work and specifically within his film scores and excelled when writing for comedies in particular, the composer seemed to be able to purvey the correct amount of comedic tone but also had the ability to incorporate more romantic and melancholy sounding themes into his soundtracks. PASSPORT TO PIMLICO is probably one of his better known Ealing comedies, the composer fashioning a not only highly enhancing work but an entertaining one, that in later years when sections were re-recorded took on a life all of their own away from the images on screen, but re-kindled fond memories of the movie and its stars. George Auric was born in Lodeve Herault in France on February 15th 1899, he was associated and considered to be one of Les Six which was a group of artists who worked with and were mentored by Erike Satie and Jean Cocteau. Auric was a prolific composer and also an arranger and orchestrater. Before the composer had reached his twenties, he had already orchestrated and composed music for ballets and stage productions. Which would stand him in good stead when he began to write for the motion picture industry. His involvement with music began at an early age, he would perform piano recitals when he was twelve years of age and several of his songs were performed as he reached his teens at The Societe Nationale de Musique.
Auric also studied at the Paris Conservatory and was schooled in composition by Vincent D’Indy and Albert Roussel at the Schola Cantorum de Paris. Auric was a recognised child prodigy and because of his abundant talent became the protégé of Erik Satie, from 1910 through to 1920, he contributed many pieces to the world of Avant-garde music in the French capital. It was in the 1930.s that the composer began to write for film, scoring the movie A NOUS LA LIBERTE in 1931, the movie itself was criticised heavily for its communist themes, but the score that Auric penned was well received. In 1931 he composed a piano sonata which was It seemed at one point that although the composer’s music for films was being applauded his music for the concert hall was entering a period of stagnation, his 1931 piano sonata received very little recognition and this led the composer to enter into a five year period where he wrote very little apart from three film scores. The composer’s friendship with Cocteau continued during this period and Auric penned the score for his LE SANG D’UN POETE. But by 1935 had decided to write for what he called a younger audience and began to compose music that he thought would reach a more general audience rather than the elitist few he had been previously associated with. He also began to attempt to express his own political views via the way he wrote music, and between 1935 and 1945 worked on a variety of pictures all of which were French language productions, these included.
THE MYSTERIES OF PARIS (1935), THE MESSENGER, THE ALIBI, THE RED DANCER, (all 1937), THE LAFARGE CASE (1938), BEAUTIFUL ADVENTURE (1942) AND FRANCOIS VILLON (1945). It was also in 1945 that he began to score British pictures his first being DEAD OF NIGHT for Ealing studios. The rest as they say is history. Auric died on the 23rd July 1983.
Alan Rawsthorne was a composer who was prolific in the writing of music for British films, his scores for THE CAPTIVE HEART, WEST OF ZANZIBAR, WHERE NO VULTRES FLY and THE CRUEL SEA being classics in every sense of the word. The composer scored a handful of films for the Ealing studios, THE CRUEL SEA and WHERE NO VULTRES FLY to name but two, his style was grand and dramatic, often with emphasise upon rasping or exciting brass, that was accompanied by strident and melodious strings underlined and punctuated by percussion and timpani. In many ways his film music resembled both William Walton and William Alwyn in style and sound, it had to it a patriotic and proud aura, which was perfect for the type of movies he worked upon. Alan Rawsthorne was born in Haslingden, in the county of Lancashire on May 2nd, 1905. He studied at the Royal college of music from 1926 through to 1930 and then in Berlin from 1930 to 1931, where he was tutored by Egon Petri.
As well as his film music Rawsthorne composed for chamber orchestra and the concert hall. He died on July 24th 1971, in Cambridge England.
From films scored in the 1930’s and 1940’s.to a film that was made in 1951 and contained a score by British composer Richard Addinsell. SCROOGE starring Alistair Sim, was in my opinion the quintessential cinematic version of the classic story A CHRISTMAS CAROL by Charles Dickens. Released by Renown pictures and produced and directed Brian Desmond Hurst, this is a film that never ages, it entertains and keeps giving even after all these years. The score too by Addinsell, is an accomplished one, a large symphonic work that is overflowing with melodies and filled with an air of festive cheer and apprehension. The composer underlining both the miserly and miserable persona of Scrooge, whilst at the same time providing a light and airy sense of carefree thematic material for the likes of Tiny Tim and his long-suffering Father and employee of Scrooge, Bob Cratchit.
It is without a doubt a musical work that deserves the label classic, and one of the best scores from that period in British cinema. Richard Addinsell, was born in London on the 13th of January 1904, one of his many popular compositions was from the movie DANGEROUS MOONLIGHT, for which the composer penned the dramatic, haunting and now classic piece called The Warsaw Concerto, which was brought to greater life by the wonderful orchestration of Roy Douglas. The film’s producers had told Addinsell that they wanted something in a similar style to Rachmaninov and Addinsell obliged them with The Warsaw Concerto, the music became an instant success and was recorded by numerous artists and has to date sold well over five million copies, the piece was released on many recordings and appealed to three sets of fans, the classical market, the popular market and also admirers of film music and it is still to this day performed regularly as a standard concert/film music piece. Addinsell studied at Oxford University and then later at The Royal College of Music in London. The composer began his career by writing songs for revues and providing stage productions with incidental music. In 1928 he wrote the incidental score for ADAMS OPERA which was by writer Clemence Dante, and this was the beginning of a collaborative partnership that was to endure until Dante,s death. Addinsell also on many occasions wrote music for and accompanied singer Joyce Grenfell, who became a close friend. During the early 1930, s the composer travelled to the United States and there began to write music for a few Hollywood motion pictures.
The composers first major film score was to be GOODBYE MR CHIPS in 1939, but his greatest success however was to be his music for the film Dangerous Moonlight, which included the Warsaw Concerto for piano and orchestra. On the actual film score the concerto was performed by Louis Kentner with the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by the great Muir Mathieson.
Addinsell’s film scores included, Amateur Gentleman (1936 for Alexandre Korda), Fire Over England (1937), South Riding (1937), Goodbye Mr Chips (1939), Gaslight (1940), The Lion Has Wings (1940), Men of the Lightship (1940), Love on the Dole (1941), Suicide Squadron (1941), The Avengers (1942), Blithe Spirit (1945), A Diary for Timothy (1945), Passionate Friends (1949), Under Capricorn (1949), The Black Rose (1950), A Christmas Carol (1950-aka SCROOGE) ,Highly Dangerous (1951), Tom Brown’s School Days (1951), Encore (1952), Sea Devils (1953), Beau Brummel (1954), Out of the Clouds (1957), The Admirable Crichton (1957) for which he received no credit, The :Prince and the Showgirl (1957), A Tale of Two Cities (1958), Loss of Innocence (1961), Macbeth (1961), The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone (1961), Waltz of the Toreadors (1962), and Life at the Top which was the composers last film score in 1965. He passed away on November 14th 1977.
For the next film and score we stay with the writings of Charles Dickens, and to probably his most well-known tale OLIVER TWIST, directed by David Lean in 1948, the musical score was by The Master of the Kings Music no less, Sir Arnold Bax. The score is as windswept, jolly and as desperately heartrending as the tale of the orphan who runs away to the streets of London to find fame and fortune, but all he finds is? Well you know the story.
The score does much to add a greater sense of drama to the proceedings and makes a good movie a classic one. Again, there is a sense of pride and also an air of the regal within the score, strings play a major part within the work, supported by ample use of the brass section and thundering and ominous sounding percussion. Bax was born on November 8th 1883, in Streatham London, his family was wealthy and he was always encouraged to pursue a career in music. Because he was already wealthy it meant that he could follow the career path that he wanted to and write music that he wanted to also. Whilst still studying at the Royal College of Music Bax became fascinated to the point of obsessed by the Ireland and the Celtic culture. During the years leading up to the First World War he lived in Ireland and whilst there became a member of the Dublin literary circle, writing fiction and verse under the alias of Dermot O’ Byrne, later he developed a keen interest in Nordic culture and this interest remain till well after the end of WW l.
In 1942, Bax was appointed the Master of the Kings Music, but it is ironic that he wrote very little music whilst in the position, during the late 1940’s and early 1950’s many regarded his music as being old fashioned, and it was rarely heard in concert, but after his death in Ireland from heart failure in 1953, it seemed to enjoy a resurgence in popularity. Bax, was not that active or prolific when it came to writing music for film, and his two other scores MALTA G.C. and JOURNEY INTO HISTORY are both for short films.
Sir Arthur Bliss is another composer who is linked with cinema in Britain. His most well-known score being for the Alexander Korda movie THINGS TO COME from 1936. The film focuses upon a period of war that has lasted for many years and the story of one forward thinking and coherent State that decides to rebuild the infrastructure and the ethics of civilization whilst eventually making strident steps to attempt space travel. The score for THINGS TO COME, is itself a ground-breaking work. Bliss was a composer associated with the composition of symphonies, choral works and Ballets as opposed to the writing of musical scores for films, but in the 1930’s many producers of movies sought out established names within the classical or serious music arena maybe to bring sort of credibility to film music in those early days of both sound pictures and music as in original scores for motion pictures.
Bliss trained under Ralph Vaughan Williams and Gustav Holst, and began his career writing Avant garde pieces, however as his career progressed and the 1940’s began the composer turned to a more conservative or conventional fashion of composition. In 1950, the composer was Knighted and three years later in 1953, he was invited to become the Master of the Queens music. Like Sir Arnold Bax, Bliss concentrated more upon music for the concert hall, and only occasionally ventured into the world of writing scores for film. Bliss was born in London on August 2nd 1891, his film credits include, THINGS TO COME (1936), SEVEN WAVES AWAY (1957) and AN AGE OF KINGS (1960). He died on March 28th, 1975 in London England. The composers music for THINGS TO COME was something of contentious subject with the author of the story H.G.Wells. Wells, admitted himself that he had no real understanding of the way music worked in the context of film, but despite this expressed specific ideas as to how he thought that the score should be utilised within the movie. Wells, insisted that Bliss write the score, a work which he had completed in the early part of 1935, and then sent copies of it to Sir Henry Wood who started to work on arranging it into a seven movement work.
One section of the score entitled IDYLL was not used in the film which was due to the sequence being dropped from the production as Korda was experiencing financial difficulties, eventually because of the financial limitations and a looming deadline Korda decided to called in another arranger Lionel Slater and also asked Muir Mathieson to conduct the score. When the movie was released it received a very mixed reaction, but the music was applauded. Some of the score which had been recorded onto discs sold well, which was a first for music from a film.
Alec Guinness, Cecil Parker, Herbert Lom, Peter Sellers, Danny Green, Jack Warner, Frankie Howerd, Katie Johnson and Philip Stainton. An impressive cast list would you not agree? Yes, nowadays this would be called an all-star cast, but in 1955, this was normal for a cast in an Ealing production. THE LADYKILLERS is one of the most watched and discussed comedy thrillers to come out of a British studio during that period. The music for this iconic movie was the work of Tristram Cary, Born in Oxford England on May 14th, 1925, Tristram Ogilvie Cary was the third child of the novelist Joyce Cary and Gertrude Margaret Cary (nee Ogilvie). He was educated at the Dragon School, Oxford and Westminster School, London. He served in the Royal Navy between 1943 and 1946, which interrupted his education, whilst in the Navy; Cary developed independently the idea that was to eventually become tape music.
Upon his demob from the service, Cary took a BA at Oxford and then headed for London, where he studied composition, piano, horn, conducting and viola. The composer died in 2008, aged 82. I was fortunate enough to talk to the composer some years ago whilst interviewing composers who had scored Hammer films, I also asked the composer how he became involved with THE LADYKILLERS as it was the composers first foray into scoring a feature film.
“I had by this time already done some work for the BBC, the director of THE LADYKILLERS, Sandy Mackendrick had been listening to some of my music for BBC plays etc, consequently, he thought that my style of writing would be well suited to the black comedy that was THE LADYKILLERS. I went to Ealing and had some discussions, pretending that I was very experienced in the art of scoring movies, (which of course was not the case), and they knew that. Any way, they asked me to submit a couple of test sections, which I did.
These two sections were recorded at the end of another recording session which turned out to be a John Addison score. Anyway, they laid these tracks to the film and they seemed to like them, because the very next day, they offered me the job. I was good friends with Sandy afterwards, and I last saw him a few years before his death in Los Angeles”.
Cary went on to score numerous British movies, plus he also worked on TV shows such as DR.WHO for the BBC. As his career progressed, he moved more into the world of electronic music, and was one of the pioneers who was responsible for creating and perfecting this type of musical content in movies. He started an association with Hammer films in the 1960’s as he recalled.
“I did Quatermass and the Pit in 1967, and then in 1972 I returned to Hammer to work on the music for Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb. I cannot remember how I got involved with Hammer, 1967 was a frantically busy year for me, I am sure that it was Phil Martell who called me asking me to write the score for Quatermass. I have to be honest and say that I was not keen on the idea of doing the score, there was a lot of work to do, they wanted masses of electronic music plus a great deal of orchestral music also, but I had three kids to feed all of whom were in fee-paying schools and I needed every penny I could get, so of course I said yes”.
A composer who was active in the scoring of British movies during the 1950.s was John Veale. Born John Douglas Louis Veale in Bromley Kent on June 15th,1922, composer John Veale, is again one of the driving and original forces within British concert hall and film music that is at times sadly overlooked. Veale attended the Dragon School in Oxford from 1930 through to 1936, and then later went to Repton school which was in Derbyshire from 1936 up until 1940. After this Veale attended The Corpus Christi College in Oxford until 1942 where he studied History. Even when he was a young child Veale took a keen interest in music, which was something of a surprise as none of his family as in his parents or siblings were musically inclined, although his Father did like to listen to Gilbert and Sullivan. It was the arrival of his new music teacher in 1939, John Gardener who opened the young composers mind to other composers and widened his appreciation of the classical music world, in the form of Sibelius and Shostakovich that really fired up Veale’s interest in composition. It was Gardener who also introduced Veale to the work of William Walton via a performance of Walton’s first symphony.
Veale also became interested in the music of Bartok, Bax, Ravel, Vaughn Williams, Rawsthorne and Barber. All of which made a lasting impression upon him and shaped the way in which he fashioned his own music in the following years. During the second world war, Veale spent his war service in the Education Corps, and during this time he continued to study music unofficially with Egon Wellesz and had lessons from Sir Thomas Armstrong in harmony and counterpoint. After the war he began to write incidental music for the theatre, and it was a piece of music from one such production LOVES LABOURS LOST (1947) that began Veale’s involvement in writing for films, the composer sent a copy of his score for the production to Muir Mathieson, who after seeing it asked Veale to write music for The Crown Film Unit, it was via this assignment that Veale met conductor John Hollingsworth, who was assistant to Sir Malcolm Sargent. Veale then became friends and moved in musical circles with many of the most respected composers of that period, Elizabeth Lutyens, William Walton, Humphrey Searle, Constant Lambert, Alan Rawsthorne plus poets and writers such as Dylan Thomas, Philip Larkin and Kingsley Amis.
It was around 1954 that Veale returned to writing music for film, John Hollingsworth attended a performance of the composer’s clarinet concerto and had heard that Muir Mathieson was looking for a composer to write the score for THE PURPLE PLAIN which was a movie that starred American actor Gregory Peck. After hearing Veale’s clarinet concerto Hollingsworth spoke with Mathieson, who agreed that Veale would be right for the film. The score was a great success for the composer and this led to other film scoring assignments that included, WAR IN THE AIR which was a documentary for television and the feature films, PORTRAIT OF ALISON-aka POSTMARK FOR DANGER (1955) and THE SPANISH GARDENER (1956) which starred the then British heart throb Dirk Bogarde. John Veale may not have written the scores to that many movies, but the few he did write were impressive and filled with rich thematic material. He battled prostate cancer for many years and had to leave Oxford and return to Bromley where he resided in a care home, he died on November 16th, 2006.
Edwin Astley is a composer that we normally associate with Television themes and scores, but he also wrote for the cinema, one movie that stands out probably because it was such an oddball comedy is THE MOUSE THAT ROARED (1959). Edwin Thomas Astley was born in Warrington in 1922. His father was a manual worker mostly working on building sites. Astley left school before he was sixteen and started work at the age of 14 working in an office where ovens were made. He was always attracted to music and took a keen interest in all things musical. He was given a violin by a relative and decided that he wanted to make music a career. He joined the R.A.S.C. band when he was still a teenager and took up the clarinet and saxophone, by the time he had reached his 18th birthday Astley was not only performing music but was arranging it for the band. In 1945 he won a cash prize for a song that he had co-written and was lucky enough to have it recorded by Dame Vera Lynn no less. It was also at this time that he met and married Hazel Balbirnie. After leaving the army Astley joined the Peter Pease dance band and soon had become accomplished enough to lead his own band, he re-located to London and was given a job at the music publishers Francis, Day and Hunter where he acted as an arranger for various vocalists. During the late 1950, s Astley moved into writing music for television, one of his first being ROBIN HOOD which became a popular series with adults and children alike. Another early TV series that he worked on was THE BUCCANEERS which led to him becoming involved on THE SAINT and DANGER MAN. In later years he worked on RANDALL AND HOPKIRK DECEASED and also provided some of the scores for THE PERSUADERS. He also worked on movies from as early as 1959, the aforementioned THE MOUSE THAT ROARED for example and in 1962, composed the score for Hammer films version of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, which included an original operatic composition and in 1973 wrote a serviceable soundtrack for DIGBY:THE BIGGEST DOG IN THE WORLD.
During the late 1970,s Astley went into semi-retirement, and moved to the countryside, but even there he could not stay away from music, he constructed a recording studio at his home and installed a number of synthesisers and started to work on building a music library. He died in Goring, Oxfordshire on May 19th, 1998.
The Boulting Brothers also contributed much to pre war and post war British cinema, one film I remember is SEVEN DAYS TO NOON, the score was the debut work of composer John Addison, released in 1950, it starred Barry Jones and was directed by John Boulting and produced by his Brother Roy. It is a tense thriller, that interestingly was written by Paul Dehn and James Bernard, yes, the same James Bernard who would later compose the ominous sounding DRACULA theme for Hammer films. He recalled his involvement with this in interview with me back in the 1990’s.
“Basically, Paul and I concocted this story and Paul wrote it down,” recalled the composer, “We then sold it to Boulting Brothers, and to our surprise got Oscars for our trouble. The ceremony that we had was quite different from all the glittering razzmatazz that we see nowadays, in fact it was not a ceremony at all. We did not get to go and receive our awards in America; we found out that we had won via an article in one of the London evening papers. A few weeks later a representative from The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences arrived at our home in Chelsea, with him he had a cardboard box, which contained our Oscars. It was a case of one quick drink, a handshake and, well, that was it really, no fanfares and certainly no lengthy acceptance speeches”.
A composer who contributed much to British cinema productions and is very rarely mentioned is Francis Chagrin. Born Alexander Paucker on November 15th 1905 in Bucharest Romania Chagrin’s Jewish parents insisted that he should pursue a career in Engineering, so whilst studying for a degree in engineering Chagrin unbeknown to his parents was also studying music at The Zurich music conservatory. He graduated from the conservatory in 1928, but soon left home and moved to Paris because his family refused to support him in his musical career. It is at this time he changed his name so that it sounded more French. Whilst in the French capital the young musician earned a living and further funded his musical ambitions by performing in some of the many nightclubs and cafes, and also turning his hand to composing songs that became popular. He was also doing further studies at this time with Paul Dukas and Nadia Boulanger, in 1936 Chagrin decided to leave France and relocate to England, where he settled. In 1940 and throughout the war years he was appointed the composer in charge of music for the French service and in particular the programme, Les Francais Parlent Aux Francais. He scored his first movie in 1939, which was a British production entitled THE SILENT BATTLE which starred Rex Harrison.
The composer worked on wide variety of movies from 1939 through to 1963, with titles such as THE COLDITZ STORY, THE BEACHCOMBER, SIMBA, LAW AND DISORDER, THE INTRUDER and GREYFRIARS BOBBY being his better known works, the composer also worked for Hammer films in 1958, providing the score for THE SNORKEL. In 1959 he composed the stirring theme and the dramatic background scores for the TV series FOUR JUST MEN, which starred Dan Daley, Vittorio De Sica, Jack Hawkins and Richard Conte. He died on November 10th 1972. His rich melodies and vibrant dramatic compositions served each project well and the composer left a luxurious sounding musical legacy which should be cherished and applauded.
A common link between many of the scores for British films was the musical director that studios often looked to for securing the services of composers that were suitable for each picture. The names of Muir Mathieson, John Hollingsworth, Phillip Martell etc are often displayed on the credits for movies, and it is true to say that without these MD.s or conductors, musical supervisors, many scores for British movies would have probably sounded very different.
They encouraged new talent and enlisted the help of established concert hall/classical composers such as Walton, Vaughn Williams, Richard Rodney Bennet, James Bernard and their like, and in essence they helped to shape and create a sound and a style that is now synonymous with the golden age of British cinema which for me was from the mid 1930’s through to the late 1950’s. Paving the way for the composers of the 1960’s to build upon the strong foundations that had been put in place. There are so many UNSUNG heroes of British film music, whos music also established the style that is now associated with British productions, Douglas Gamley, John Ireland, Brian Easdale, Charles Williams, Bruce Montgomery and Temple Abady. Then there were the composers who were active in the 1950.s and continued to work through to the 1970’s and beyond. John Addison, Stanley Myers, Malcolm Arnold etc.
Associated British Picture Corporation, Ealing Studios, Renown Films, British Lion, Hammer Films, Tigon, London Film are all names that are synonymous with British cinema and if I have omitted to mention any others I apologise. Each had their own role in contributing to the great British cinema, each were different but all of them produced films that had entertaining storylines, convincing acting performances and polished direction, cinematography, and production. They also boasted some of the most inspiring and memorable film music scores that have been written for Cinema.