I knew Angela Morley long before I met her. Known as Wally Stott she
had been one of a very small group of arrangers familiar to the public through
their work; Robert Farnon, Mantovani and Peter Knight being three others.
Angela was now the musical director for the Goon Show. I met her when I
was invited to a broadcast by a friend who played bass in the Ray Ellington
Quartet, the show’s resident jazz group.
Angela was starting to make a career as a film composer and needed help
recording her music to “When Eight Bells Toll”. It was only to sit in the
control room helping the sound engineer with the balance.
While we were working on that movie she asked if I would be interested
in taking on orchestration for a young composer she had just helped with his
This was Michael J. Lewis. (He was always very keen on that J.)
For me, this became a turning point, as it was obvious that orchestration
was becoming my forte. It was time to leave Top of the Pops and move on. I
left the show with many regrets and started work with Michael.
The first picture we did together was at CTS Studio in its original site in
Westbourne Grove, where the engineer was John Richards, who was to
become my favourite engineer .
The film was an American TV documentary, but a special one. Called
“Upon this Rock”, it dealt with the history of St Peter’s Cathedral in Rome.
The director, Harry Rasky, decided the documentary should contain dramatic
interludes between characters involved in the cathedral’s history. His casting
showed great powers of persuasion. Ralph Richardson was the film’s guide,
Dirk Bogarde played Bonnie Prince Charlie, Edith Evans played Queen
Christina, while to play Michelangelo who other than Orson Welles. But then
the director hit a snag.
They do not permit camera crews in the Cathedral. But Harry Rasky was a
wily operator and didn’t accept this order. He quietly applied for, and got, an
audience with His Holiness himself, and during their audience he mentioned
his idea for the documentary. Pope John 23rd liked the idea and responded
with words to the effect, “That’s marvellous. We haven’t had a film inside the
cathedral before”. Then issued instructions for them to go ahead.
The Cardinals didn’t like it, but what could they do? Well, they could
craftily order that filming be done only at night. But rather than spoiling
things it enhanced them. With the use of artificial lighting the movie turned
out more beautiful than anyone had imagined; a lighting director’s dream.
And a composer’s dream too.
Such a subject calls for lavish music and Michael J was suitably inspired.
So was I. Mike, being Welsh, found the ecclesiastical mood brought out his
nationalistic fervour, something that lies close to the surface in all Welshmen.
We had a large orchestra (with Charlie Luxon, my ex-teacher on tuba),
which Mike decided to conduct. And with John Richards dealing with the
sound it turned out magnificently. At lunch, the three of us were in The
Shakespeare having an unusually festive drink when we suddenly realised we
were the only ones in the bar; the orchestra had gone back to work. The
musical director was the last one back in the studio. And as Mike took his
place on the stand, the shuffling of feet could be heard; and he blushed.
This was the first of eight or ten pictures that I worked on with Mike over
the next few years. “Theatre of Blood”, “Unman, Wittering and Zigo”, “Julius
Caesar” (not the well-known one); to Mike, they were just movies. He was a
charismatic chap who had been “discovered” by Bryan Forbes who gave him
his first job. He exuded a great sense of confidence, gripping his cigarette
with his teeth, jolly and well met. But when he began to get work doing TV
commercials I found myself not required and our collaboration began to flag.
Before that though, I did some musical sketches for Mike for a stage
musical, “Cyrano”, with a book by Anthony Burgess. These two, Burgess and
Lewis, from the opposite ends of the intellectual spectrum, made a curious
couple. Burgess, so superior and withering but at the same time jealous of
Mike’s talent with a tune. And Mike, so jaunty and thick skinned, blithely
ignoring Burgess’s broadsides. Like the polymath he was, Burgess himself
was a composer and had even written several symphonies. It made him all the
more irritated. But unfortunately what he wrote wasn’t show music, hence the
choice of Mike as preferred composer. Very galling.
The show, produced by Tyrone Guthrie from his original Shakespeare
Theatre production in Stratford, Ontario, found its way to Broadway with
Christopher Plummer as Cyrano. I suppose this was Mike’s apogee. Suzy and
I were invited to New York for the first night which seemed to go down well
as, after the show, we went to dinner at Sardi’s where everyone stood and
cheered us as we came in. It was a spectacular moment which none of us will
The early hours passed as we waited for the papers and the reviews. But
the apogee had passed; the critics were mostly cool to bad, only one critic
gave it a good write up. Nevertheless we had a late, late breakfast and, with
the girls in full evening dress and furs, and the men in tuxedos, we walked
down the middle of Broadway at three in the morning with Suzy languorously
allowing her (borrowed) mink to trail along the ground. It was La Grande
Illusion indeed. The show ran for just five weeks and closed.
Not long after, Mike took off for Hollywood where, like the candle
lighted at both ends, he flared and then went out. I haven’t heard what
happened to him but I do know how Hollywood treats people they suspect of
A new experience for me was the prodigality of US dining. The first time
we all went to lunch as guests of the management I ordered rib of beef only to
gaze at a whole rib, twelve or more inches long and two inches thick,
weighing a kilo or so. I hadn’t yet learnt about doggy bags.
Another night we went to Lüchow’s restaurant thinking it was Chinese. It
is actually German, which we discovered soon after entering when we passed
a table where a man was gnawing a calf’s leg held in his fingers. On the
central platform a trio were playing Johann Strauss beautifully. I don’t
remember what we had to eat but after dinner, while the trio took their break,
a lederhosen clad oompah band accordion, clarinet, trombone and tuba –
began to circulate, taking requests and tips from diners. As they got nearer I
began to panic slightly. The others were whispering conspiratorially, “Can
anyone remember a German tune?” But I had my own problem.
I had just a single $100 bill in my pocket. What should I do? Blazon it out
proudly and toss the bill away lightly, with the insouciance of the super rich?
Or take the embarrassing but cheaper course of tending the bill and asking for
The trombone player approached the table, “You guys want us to play
summin’ for ya?”
I had heard a rumour that these fellows were from the New York Phil and
were moonlighting. We were ready for them. Suzy piped up innocently. “Do
you know ‘Ach, du liebe Augustin’?”
He looked at her hard. “I’ll ask the other guys”.
He retreated back to his fellows who conferred with suspicious glances in
our direction, then finally shuffled off to the next table.
Thank God for Suzy, who knows but one German tune.
Disasters I witnessed during that period of my life…
Frank Muir and Denis Norden were a comedy writing team who
sometimes wrote film scripts. One such movie was “The Best House in
London”, for which I was asked to contribute orchestrations. Perhaps the
producers thought things might go awry, I don’t know why, but they had hired
three orchestrators of which I was one, the other two being John Scott and
Christopher Gunning. The composer was….
Well, I shall call him Martin.
In this book I have avoided saying anything too damning about people I
have met, as I don’t want to hurt anyone or their families, BUT, in a crazy
business like the film business, where the most unsuitable people get chosen
for tasks for which they have no aptitude, it is better not to reveal names.
Martin was from Vienna. I would guess, and said he had written the
scores for, oh, a hundred or more pictures. He was certainly old enough to
have done so. He did not orchestrate, but gave his orchestrator a piano score,
leaving out any details as to the mood or story line; neither did he give me a
shooting script, which would have detailed every shot in the picture with its
I collected my first batch of cues from Martin at his flat in Mayfair (rule 1
– the biggest con artists always have the best accommodation), and when I got
home to my studio and started to look at it, a small alarm bell tinkled quietly.
The phone rang. It was Chris Gunning, “Have you got any sketches from
Marty yet, Larry?”
“Yes,” I replied, “and they don’t seem to fit”.
“Hang on a moment,” said Chris. “I’ve got someone on the other line.”
It was John Scott, the third orchestrator. And after some talking Chris
came back to me. “I’m putting us all on the conference call line.”
We were now all in conversation. It became apparent that Martin had no
idea of the co-relation between music and film. Movie film moves at a speed
of ninety feet per minute: music has tempo, and these two, speed of film and
tempo of music have an immutable relation to each other. The relationship I
am speaking of is purely technical. One minute of music at 60 beats per
minute last for exactly 90 feet of film. One minute of music at 120 beats per
minute will last for 45 feet of film. This central fact of movie music was
apparently unknown to Martin, despite having made all those movies.
(“Tinkle tinkle” changed to “clang clang”).
The next few minutes were weird. We decided that to avoid an utter
disaster we would individually re-time Martin’s cues ourselves. Even if they
sounded a bit odd they would at least fit the picture. So that is what we did.
Fortunately, I never went to the recording sessions; I had booked a
holiday in Mallorca for the family, so I can only report what I have been told.
The orchestra was directed by Eric Rogers, who had written all the music for
the “Carry On” series, a seasoned hand at the tiller.
Eric is known for carrying with him a violin case that, when opened,
reveals two bottles of scotch, a glass or two, and some soda cans. Ready, you
might think, for any emergency. Another thing about Eric… a tendency
towards a certain frankness when annoyed.
The first cue was run through. It fitted, but seemed odd, as though
something in it was missing. Shall I go on?
OK. Eric didn’t say much but opened the fiddle case, filled his tot glass,
and drank. “Lets try that again, fellas”, he said. So again, through the cue.
This time Eric calls through his talk back mike, to the director in the
control room, the composer, sitting next to him.
“Who wrote this shit?” Eric enquired.
Slow fade to black.
I’ve never seen “The Best House in London” so I don’t know if the
composer’s music was thrown out or not, but I’m told it is not credited. Maybe
the composer was so ashamed of it that he withdrew his name, or maybe his
music crawled away into a corner and died of shame all by itself.
Shame befell another composer, whom I’m again compelled not to
mention. When it came time to record, he had not completed the score. When
a composer fails to get his score ready and the orchestra has nothing to play
there is a colossal bill to pay. Once they have been booked, the rule states
they must be paid, even if there is no music ready. This composer, rather than
reveal just how incomplete his score was, tried extemporising with a full
symphony orchestra; eighty musicians with no music on their stands and the
conductor on his rostrum, a sad sight to behold, and after a few minutes he
realised the game was up.
On another occasion it almost happened to Angela Morley and me.
Angela had been hired to orchestrate a movie but with recording due to start
on Monday morning, by Saturday the composer had completed only the first
two cues, and those written only in piano score. They had to be orchestrated
very quickly over the weekend as the London Symphony Orchestra would be
waiting in the studio on Monday morning.
In this case the production company was saved a huge fine when at the
last minute the LSO managed to find alternative work. Angela then had to
write a new score for the film, which is the one that now accompanies the