Wednesday, March 9, 2016

The Film Music of Laurie Johnson

Most people are familiar with one particular piece of music that Laurie Johnson wrote, even if they do not recognize his name - The Theme to The Avengers, the ultra-cool British spy show of the 1960s. It's unique bongo beating beginning leads us into the tinkling of champagne glasses before the real theme begins....a delectable mixture of big band and mod London swing which captures the spirit of the show to perfection.

Although this is his most internationally recognized work of theme music, he wrote many other scores for popular films such as Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove ( 1965 ), First Men in the Moon ( 1964 ), Tiger Bay ( 1959 ) and Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter ( 1974 ).

Laurie Johnson was born on February 7th, 1927, in Hampstead, England. After studying at the Royal College of Music he launched his music career at the young age of 19 by working as an arranger/composer for Ted Heath and his band, and later for bandleaders such as Jack Parnell and Ambrose.

Before venturing to the film industry he dabbled in creating dance arrangements of popular songs of the mid-50s at Pye Records ( later home to such artists as Tony Hatch, Petula Clark and the Kinks ).

In 1955 he began work as an arranger and orchestrator at some smaller film studios in London such as the Associated British Picture Corporation, until he worked his way up to getting assignments as a composer. His first full-fledged film production was a film called The Moonraker ( 1958 ) which starred English actors George Baker and Sylvia Sims. It wasn't until 1959 that he made his first big hit with the score for Tiger Bay, a suspense drama starring John Mills, Horst Bucholz and Hayley Mills. After a few more minor films such as I Aim at the Stars ( about the life of Werner Von Braun ), Operation Bullshine ( 1959 ), and Spare the Rod ( 1960 ), he hit his "prime" and began writing for film and television in such astounding succession.

One of his most beautiful songs is the "Romance" theme to Ray Harryhausen's First Men in the Moon ( 1964 ), a gentle "light classic" that captures the Victorian English country setting that the movie took place in and rather brings to mind the theme to another great H.G Wells film, The Time Machine ( 1960 ). Laurie Johnson had been working as an assistant to composer Bernard Herrmann on previous Charles Schneer fantasy productions such as Mysterious Island and Jason and the Argonauts so, when Herrmann declined to accept the assignment for First Men in the Moon, Johnson took the helm and did quite a magnificent job.


He entered the UK Singles Chart with "Sucu Sucu" the theme music to the television series Top Secret in 1961, and it was in television scoring that he was to be most prolific. Between 1965-1980 he worked on such wonderful series as The Avengers, The Professionals, The New Avengers, Shirley's World, and Thriller.

In the 1960s and 1970s he continued to be busy with film work, composing his own symphonies, as well as creating music for the theatre ( in 1967 he composed the music for a stage version of The Four Musketeers ). Hot Millions ( 1968 ) and Hedda ( 1975 ) are two especially lovely pieces dating from this period. 


In the late 1980s to early 1990s he composed the music to several TV movie adaptions of historical romance writer Barbara Cartland's novels including A Hazard of Hearts ( a beautiful score ) and The Lady and the Highwayman. But alas, in the realm of film and television Laurie Johnson has since ceased to be active. Currently he is still very much involved in his band The London Big Band which specializes in performing big band swing and pop music.

3 comments:

  1. Granted as an Avengers fan I am biased, but I always thought The Avengers theme composed by Mr. Johnson was one of the best ever written. He was a remarkable composer.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. As another avid Avengers fan, I must be biased too, because I agree with you....it's a stellar theme.

      Delete
  2. His soundtrack to CAPTAIN KRONOS is excellent, too.

    ReplyDelete

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...