A wet night in Charing Cross road. I presented myself at the stage door of
the Phoenix theatre and asked the doorman for Pat Doyle’s dressing room. I
had already seen the show, “As You Like It”, and so had had my first
encounter with Kenneth Branagh and The Renaissance Theatre Company.
Pat Doyle, who hails from Glasgow had a small part but also sang some
songs during the play accompanying himself on an autoharp. His role in the
company was mainly to supply original music, so this play was a good
opportunity for him to display his talent.
I knocked on the dressing room door. A Scottish accented voice said
“come in” and I met the man himself just about to climb out of his costume.
“Take a pew”, he said, so I parked myself and we chatted for a few
minutes while he got ready.
This introduction had been made by our mutual friend, Brian Gascoigne, a
pianist, arranger and computer wizard who had a small studio within the
larger CTS Studio in Wembley. Brian had been making some demonstration
tapes for Pat who was preparing them to present to the production company
that was about to make “Henry V”, Kenneth Branagh’s first movie as director.
Not surprisingly, given his position with the company, Pat had asked his
boss if he could be considered as composer for the picture, but had not yet
been offered the job. Brian Gascoigne had declined the job of orchestrating
for Pat and had recommended me. (Thanks, Brian!)
When students and young composers ask me how to get in to films, I
always say there isn’t any specific method, you just have to be in the right
place at the right time, and grab the opportunity. This certainly applied to both
Pat and me at that moment.
For the next week or two we started together on some ideas for the score,
some of which Ken liked and some he didn’t. During this time we were
together every day at Brian’s studio and I had a chance to get to know him a
bit. From a Scottish catholic, working class family, he was the seventh son of
a seventh son, which is supposed to mark you out for distinction in the world
of affairs. He had studied at the Royal Scottish Academy, after which he had
worked in Scotland as an actor/musician until joining The Renaissance
At the same time Ken Branagh was beginning his own climb to the media
favour that was to dog him and his wife, Emma Thompson, for the next
several years. But in the meantime, whilst the bubble of approval continued,
Ken, Emma and company could do no wrong. It was a heady time.
Eventually Pat was chosen as composer and began to realise the size of
the job he had taken on. It would be a score for full orchestra lasting about 75
minutes, which Ken had decided even though filming had not yet started. This
is a great help to any composer, who usually doesn’t get called in until
shooting has finished, because Pat now had some three months to spend
writing the score which, bearing in mind the fact that this was his first movie,
he was going to need.
Another advantage for him was the fact that he himself was in the picture,
playing a small part, but crucially, experiencing the movie as it grew during
filming, something no composer normally gets. And another lucky fact was
that most of the Production Staff were also doing something for the first time
and thus had no preconceived ideas about what was possible.
This was an absolute boon for the creative people as, traditionally, the
producers (that is the budget-watchers, money-men and accountants), can
seriously limit creative freedom by forcing budgetary controls over
everything. All this was mostly absent. Steven Evans, the producer, who was
securing the financing of the picture, had all the usual headaches associated
with finding the money, but he didn’t let that disturb the people who were
making the picture. And David Parfitt, another producer, was also a
Renaissance man, and thus an ally.
Filming took place at Shepperton Studios, its woods and its grounds,
while the Battle of Agincourt was shot in a field opposite, beside the giant
reservoir next door whose high bank had to be carefully screened from any
I went down several times to watch filming and one night watched the
sacking of Harfleur by fire and the “once more unto the breach, dear friends”
speech, with fire engines and fire fighters everywhere as we put the town to
the torch. Terribly exciting for me as I love fireworks.
By the time filming had finished Pat had already mapped out some of the
main themes. The main theme progresses through the score from the dark
minor form of the original version in the main title, to its triumphal major key
apotheosis of the hymn “Non Nobis Domine” which closes the Battle Scene.
Rather satisfying that.
At that time Pat was using the old method for writing. He would sketch
out the music in “short score”, that is, in a three line piano part with
instrumental indications and timings. But even that early on in the process, he
had decided we should use click tracks to ensure exact synchronisation
between the music and the film.
This means printing an audible “click” that one listens to while playing
the music to ensure the exact tempo is maintained. If it is properly used it is
not so rigid as it might sound, and Pat used irregular bar lengths to break up
any sense of monotony. Nowadays, most composers use this method and
employ a music editor who takes care of the technical side and prints the
outline scores with timings and “hit points”, moments where music must
coincide in some emphatic way with the picture. Of course it all takes a bit of
getting used to and progress was slow at first, but we soon picked up speed.
Another feature of work with Pat was his freedom from convention. This
meant that many of my opinions about the suitability of what he suggested
would be called into question and I would find myself going down a
completely different musical path. Although we had some clashes over this at
the beginning, I found this rather refreshing. On the other hand, he would let
me have my way with unusual combinations of instruments so that eventually
we wound up with “an interesting and unusual score”. (Here I’m quoting the
conductor – see below.)
One of Pat’s characteristics is his love of singing and choirs, so when it
came to the climax and King Henry calls for hymns of praise to be sung, it
was an opportunity for him to come up with something so simple yet so
effective as “Non Nobis Domine”, which forms the high spot of the score.
It was recorded at CTS studios, at that time one of the best studios
anywhere for recording movies. A few weeks before, one of Ken Branagh’s
staff was discussing the picture with a friend who revealed that she knew
Simon Rattle and that he loved movies.
“Would he be interested in recording ‘Henry’?” she was asked.
Simon was asked and said he would be delighted to record Pat’s score and
he would bring the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra down to
London to do it. Wow! Could any composer ask for more?
On the first day of recording Pat and I and the rest of the music staff
arrived early. The studio staff were already there as was the director and all
the production staff. The atmosphere was “First Night”, excited but
suppressed . We spoke for some minutes until, standing in the door, there was
Simon Rattle who shook hands and started to chat to both Ken and Pat who
introduced me. At that moment the quiet atmosphere was broken by John
Sessions, one of the cast, but in his guise as a very camp Leonard Bernstein,
he addressed Simon, “Why, it’s Steven Riddle”, he cooed, “Steven, I’m just
CRAZY about your work.”
He went over to the window and gazed down into the studio, “AND the
Battersea Symphony Orchestra! Gee, it’s so DARLING to have you guys
He burbled on in this way while Simon took in the joke and laughed…
(although at first he was a bit amazed).
So to the recording sessions. We started recording the music in the order
in which it appears in the movie after the title music. A black screen is
suddenly illuminated by a lighter’s flame. It falls on the face of the chorus,
played by Derek Jacobi as he speaks these famous lines, “Oh for a muse of
fire that would ascend the brightest Heaven of invention.”
As he moves, “a Kingdom for a stage…”, lighting begins to reveal a film
studio. At this point the strings begin a quiet progression of chords in D
This was the first time Pat had heard a note of his score and it
overwhelmed him. “Oh! It sounds wonderful”, he shouted out in the silent
control room, “I’ve got to tell them!”.
To everybody’s surprise he jumped up, leapt down the stairs and burst
into the studio where the orchestra were still playing the cue with all eyes on
the conductor and their backs to the door through which this excited composer
had just burst. Those eyes spun round to see a loony standing in the doorway
shouting, “It sounds GREAT!”
Most of the orchestra had not met Pat and didn’t know him from Adam,
so it was up to Simon Rattle to calm the situation quickly and introduce him,
“Ladies and gentlemen…Mr Patrick Doyle, the composer”.
This eased the situation and there was some applause. However
inexcusable it might seem, there is only one time in your life you hear your
own music for the first time and it is the most wonderful moment too, unique
The sessions continued over the next two or three days. One session
included the choir. For this we had already decided to use the actors own
voices to which was added some professional singers and then everything was
overdubbed to give the impression of a much larger group. At the BAFTAS
(British Association of Film and Television Arts) Awards, “Non Nobis
Domine” won the award for the best film theme. I had to collect it from Tony
Bennnett as Pat was already away with Renaissance on a tour of the Far East.
I was so surprised to see Bennett looking so fresh and bouncy (I mean,
how old can he be?) that I completely forgot the boring prepared speech we
all make at these awards. I just burbled, “Doesn’t he look great”.
I have tried to give an impression of what it was like for someone to be
given the chance of writing a film score for the first time. For Pat, it was a life
changing event and neither of us will ever forget it.
As always happens, a big success brings the world clamouring and Pat
was soon besieged with offers for more work. He was the new kid on the
block as was Ken, so they became busy, busy, busy.
The picture was a big success in the US and it wasn’t long before Ken was
over there making another picture, “Dead Again”, which we recorded in Los
Angeles, arriving without having finished the score.
I found a marvellous place to work on the Paramount lot where Bob
Bornstein, the head copyist, lent me his office and even allowed me to smoke
there. He ran a typical American operation; a small army of copyists at desks,
music printers and paper everywhere as they were working on other pictures
than ours at the same time.
It’s so funny to think that all that industry, so common only a few years
ago, has now utterly changed because the advent of computers and modern
software have made the old style music copyist completely redundant. This
important skill has been totally bypassed by “Sibelius’’, an ingenious music
writing computer software that will produce music as perfect as a printer and
perform all vital functions connected with the production of printed scores
and orchestral parts.
And all in a few years. Composers who write for films and television have
also had their lives and working methods changed by computers. It would be
very difficult to compose for these media nowadays without using a
computer, indeed there is now a new official profession of “electronic
composer” that has come into being.
Pat is one such composer who has changed his work method, as I
described earlier, and “gone electronic”. But here I have to speak for myself
when I say these changes have not always been for the better.
Previously the director would have been satisfied with a conference with
his composer in which he would be played themes on a piano, which he could
approve, while the fine detail of each music cue could be left to the composer
to write in his own way. That state of affairs has been changed by computers.
Now the director can ask for, and get, an electronic “mock up” of the final
score to approve or disapprove. This is called a “demo”, which the director
can take away with him as a music file and play to himself or even add to his
picture to see how I suits him.
For the director, this may seem to be fine. But for the composer, his
creative freedom is now compromised. He is effectively chained to that
version of his music. If he decides on a better version, he has to persuade the
director that the new version is better, and probably has to produce a new
“demo” to support his argument. This has given the director even more
control over his composer than he already had.
I don’t have to tell you that this state of affairs is not always popular with
When we recorded the music for “Dead Again”, the sound engineer was
my old friend John Richards, whom I referred to earlier.
John had left England and come to Los Angeles to live and work, so it
was just great to see him and work together again. Apart from his skill as a
master sound engineer, John has a great calming effect which, in the nervy
excitable climate of the film industry, is very welcome.
Working with friends makes everything so much easier and so much more
fun, and he and his wife, Gayle, have been very welcoming to us on many
I have lost count of the pictures I have done where John was sound
engineer but, as Michael Lewis, Trevor Jones and Pat Doyle all prefer to
work with him, it must be quite a few. I remember one occasion when John
had to get quite strict with us. Pat Doyle had brought his friend, Richard
Benjamin to a mixing session.
These two friends are a complete riot when they are together and that
morning Pat had embarked on one of his falling down stories for which he is
quite famous. While he was telling it, I was taking pictures which I still have.
What that story was about I don’t know but you can see everybody in the
studio is helpless with laughter with Richard Benjamin almost falling out of
his chair and Pat collapsed on the floor. John Richards is still in his chair but
with his head back, laughing out loud.
Suddenly he got control of himself and turned to Pat, “You’ll all have to
get out of this studio and go next door. I cant do any work with all this
We all left, sobered up, and did as he suggested.
After Suzy and I split up I went over to LA for a visit. John has a big
passion apart from the job; cars, both old and new. He has several lovely old
cars including a red MG with silver wire wheels. I’ve been out in it with John
driving and wherever we go we get appreciative looks or toots on horns from
other drivers. He also has a Porsche, of course. We were going out in it when
he noticed he had a flat tyre. This meant fitting that embarrassing small sized
spare to get us to the garage.
He’d been expounding on the special qualities and stout workmanship of
the Porsche until the garage guy told him the tyre was a write off. New tyres
for Porsches are imported, price, let us say an arm and a leg, perhaps $500 or
thereabouts. As he was writing out the cheque I couldn’t resist asking “Still
happy with the car now, John?”
I know. I’m a bastard.
John is so many people’s favourite engineer. I know Barbra Streisand
won’t have anyone else. Also John Barry. He just produces this rich,
sumptuous sound wherever he is working, you can usually tell JR engineering
by just listening.
When I was still working with Michael Lewis, he, John and I with our
respective wives decided on a dinner at the Connaught. For this we saved up
over several weeks before we had enough to feel comfortable. This is the only
time I’ve done that. Was it worth it? I’m sure it was; they were so nice to us,
you would have thought we dined there every week.
The next picture that brought me to America with Pat was “Carlito’s
Way” whose formidable director was Brian de Palma. In keeping with the
location of this group of Italian-American actors and directors, we recorded it
in New York at the Hit Factory, a huge barn of a place with one of those
enormous open cargo lifts, open at the top, so you can study the cables that
hold your life in their greasy coils.
This place was rumoured to be owned by the Mafia but we saw no
suspicious characters with hats over their eyes and dark glasses lurking about.
I was greatly in awe of de Palma who was reputed to be very fierce, but the
presence of so many Britons (John Richards engineering again), seemed to
have a calming effect until one afternoon the control room door was opened
and a party of prospective customers was about to be shown round by one of
the studio staff.
Brian de Palma didn’t even get out of his seat. “Hey you, you, you and
you! Out! NOW!!”
They melted away and I saw for a moment what people meant about Brian
de Palma when displeased. I was glad that the star of the picture, Al Pacino,
wasn’t present in his role as Carlito or serious harm could have come to
someone as the character played by Pacino shoots quite a few persons who
displease him in the movie, and you know how method actors get wrapped up
in their characters.
Walking back to my hotel one night I was propositioned by a very pretty
tart. This hadn’t happened to me for a while, as you can imagine, as I was in
my mid-sixties and led a quiet life. However flattered I felt, I declined her
offer and went into the hotel. Calling the Head Porter, I said, “I’ve just been
picked up by a tart right outside the hotel.”
The head porter didn’t seem surprised, “I know”, he said, “It’s a service
we provide for our guests. Welcome to New York!”
At breakfast, I always had the “Continental”, just toast, marmalade and
coffee. On the way back to my table, passing the counter loaded with the
“Full American”, I picked up an apple. Noting this, my waiter came to the
table, picked up my bill, struck out $6:00 and changed it to $11:00. The Big
Welcome to New York!!
The next time we were in Los Angeles was not a happy event. Pat had
been diagnosed with a form of cancer and was isolated in hospital. Everybody
was concerned for him as he was unable to travel.
By this time our team had been joined by James Shearman, who not only
did some of the orchestrations but also conducted the orchestra. At that time
James was in his late twenties but looked about 18; however, when he got on
the rostrum to conduct, any doubts about his abilities were quickly dispelled.
He was quiet and calm but definitely in charge.
The picture was “Quest for Camelot”, an animated film with a number of
songs in it, and we found ourselves missing Pat because the American writing
team were a pushy bunch whose opinions differed somewhat from ours, and
that is all I’m going to say about that.
James and I went out for a Chinese meal and found ourselves in a
restaurant without a drinks licence. Without thinking, I asked James to go
across the boulevard to a liquor store and buy us a couple of beers. After what
seemed a long time he was back, looking disappointed, “They wont serve me.
They say I’m under age.” James was quite put out, “They said, ‘show us your
driver’s licence’ but I don’t drive. You’ll have to go”
I said he didn’t look his age !
It was interesting working on an animated film as the role of director
changes radically. There are no actors, just drawings or CGIs (Computer
Generated Images). Therefore the director must himself be an animator. It
was amazing watching Frederick Du Chau show one of his artists how he
wanted a scene to look. He just took a block of paper and with a few lightning
strokes of the pencil roughed out a rectangle and drew in the details in the
way he wanted. It was the speed and subtlety of his drawing that I found so
amazing, He drew a marvellous cartoon of our team that I keep on my desk.
Pat spent several months in isolation at the hospital; it was serious for a
time and the poor man lost all his hair, but he pulled through and has been OK
ever since. And his hair came back, thank God.
The next time we were all in California, Pat had recovered and all his
American friends threw him a party. I was then still smoking so I stole out of
the house into the garden for a quick drag and hadn’t taken three puffs before
a closet smoker was beside me pleading for a fag. There’s a lot of bullshit
around in California, if you don’t mind my saying, but nowhere is the bullshit
thicker than with smoking. I’m afraid it had even infected John Richards. I
was staying with him and his wife, Gayle. We were sitting in the patio
overlooked by some French windows that enabled you to see into the
apartment. So John, the closet smoker and I both light up, but before we start
to talk he arranges that I sit facing the French windows while he sits with his
back to them. “If Gayle comes in”, he says, his voice going all conspiratorial
“I’ll slip you my cigarette under the table.”
I could scarcely believe what I was hearing. That night they had invited
John Scott to dinner, John is English and we’d known each other since that
strange time when we all worked on “The Best House in London”, and I was
delighted to meet him again. So we’re all having dinner when Gayle suddenly
and rather formally says, “I want you all to fill your glasses and drink to my
darling John, WHO GAVE UP SMOKING FOR ME”.
I didn’t know quite where to look as we all intoned, “Well done, John!”
I’m still not quite sure how that situation has resolved itself.
When Ken Branagh decided to film “Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein”, Pat
saw an opportunity to write an epic sized score. I have already mentioned in
connection with “Arachnophobia” how horror films lend themselves to music,
and what horror story beats Frankenstein?
Before we got to the music, the music staff, including the composer, were
to appear in a ballroom scene from the movie where we play the band. During
makeup, one of the makeup chiefs took a look at my beard and declared it too
modern. “It will have to come off.”
I was outraged. “I’ve had my beard since I came out of the army and no
one is going to separate me from it.”
This caused a bit of an impasse until Pat came to my rescue, “But Ken,
who’s playing Dr Frankenstein, is wearing his own beard “ he said.
It was true, and I thought, my beard was safe. But these backroom people
have ways of getting even. “Okay, he can keep his modern beard but we shall
have to stick a period beard over it.”
This was a mild form of torture when it came to taking the false beard off.
It took over an hour to detach it and I was picking stray whiskers out of my
face for weeks.
Then I had to wear a wig and 18th century costume and stand on a
staircase with one leg on a higher step than the other, in tight fitting shoes
with heels. I am in shot for a while but the only bit you see of me is the
bottom of my double bass.
Such vanity, just to be in a movie.
The nature of the film enabled us to assemble an unusually large orchestra
which filled the hall at Lyndhurst Studio and I claim you can really hear it if
you have the recording. I used six horns and added a euphonium and brought
the bass tuba across from its usual seat beside the trombones. This made a
huge choir of eight horns which sound wonderfully heavy, rich and elemental.
Over in the depleted trombone section I added a cimbasso, a double bass
trombone that has no slide but uses keywork like an enormous brass bass
clarinet. So, eight horns and four trombones. Now we added six trumpets and,
in one cue, an A flat oboe and six flutes. I have been told that quite a few of
the players on this score have actually bought copies of the CD. If this is true,
I am really flattered; acceptance by one’s peers is something I’ve always tried
to earn, and when they pay cash I’m doubly rewarded! I hope Pat is as proud
of his score as I am of my orchestrations. Apart from the score to Henry V, it
is my favourite.
I want to end this chapter by mentioning the popularity of recordings of
film music that has occurred since I have been working in this business. In the
early seventies it was still unusual for a film score to be recorded
commercially separate from the movie. I made a couple of records (LPs not
CDs), with Miklos Rosza, using the Royal Philharmonic orchestra at EMI
Studios. We recorded special arrangements of his many famous scores, such
as “The Lost Weekend”, “ Young Bess” and “Sinbad”. But these were made
years after the actual pictures had appeared and were only in response to a
new demand, and to the production company’s belated realisation of a fresh
market for old film scores. Now, with the relative unpopularity of serious
classical music and the sheer attractiveness and accessibility of film music,
film music has come to replace classical in the wider public’s interest.