“I dedicated a lapse of style final month and I can’t be stunned if I’m dismissed from my honourable workplace,” wrote Sir John Betjeman in 1974. The letter’s recipient was Main Sir Rennie Maudslay, keeper of the privy purse. The lapse in style was Betjeman’s Banana Blush, an album wherein the poet laureate recited a dozen of his poems to a collection of musical settings by the composer Jim Parker, who has died aged 88.
Whereas the album widened the poet’s fanbase, it was the making of Parker, who would turn out to be one of the vital prolific composers in tv. Among the many work he’s finest recognized for are the early TV dramas of Victoria Wooden, the BBC’s Home of Playing cards trilogy and 121 episodes of Midsomer Murders.
A part of the allure of his Betjeman settings was that they have been intentionally dated to match the poet’s phrase footage. “Select your companions for a foxtrot. / Dance till it’s tea o’clock,” Betjeman intoned, and Parker’s wind band equipped the backing with sax-tinged tea-dance swing, jaunty brass chorales and mournful oompah tunes.
Most of Parker’s profession had been spent with the Barrow Poets, a efficiency collective he had joined in 1963. It was when making an album with Doggerel Financial institution, an offshoot of the group, that he got here into the purview of Charisma Information, the place the producer Hugh Murphy proposed making a report with the poet laureate to Parker’s accompaniment.
When Parker demonstrated musical concepts for 4 poems on a transportable harmonium, Betjeman was seduced. For the recording Parker employed members of the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble and the London Saxophone Quartet, including a metal guitar, banjo and a few strings. Parker himself sat at a piano and cued Betjeman out and in. “When you take heed to the tunes,” he recalled, “the poems might truly be sung with them, as a result of I’ve based mostly the tunes on the lyrics … however not normally on the identical time. So the tune goes a technique, then they do the lyrics spoken. That was the system I labored out.”
Betjeman was thrilled. “I have to write to let you know how entranced I’m along with your sensible and sympathetic music to my verses,” he wrote. “They provide the poems a brand new dimension and are as diverse as a gala efficiency on the Palladium, or higher nonetheless, the Empire or the Alhambra, Leicester Sq..” They’d signal playing cards to one another as Gilbert and Sullivan. “He’s Sullivan, I’m Gilbert,” Betjeman mentioned when introducing individuals to Parker.
Banana Blush was sufficient of successful to set off a follow-up that very same 12 months. (Late Flowering Love was filmed in 1993 as Late Flowering Lust by the BBC, with Nigel Hawthorne and dancers performing Matthew Bourne’s choreography.) Two additional albums adopted. For Sir John Betjeman’s Britain, in celebration of the Queen’s silver jubilee in 1977, Parker recruited members of the New Philharmonia Orchestra “as a result of I assumed we wished to have one thing a bit posh”. Varsity Rag got here three years earlier than the poet’s dying in 1984. At his memorial in Westminster Abbey, the congregation filed out to music from Banana Blush.
The album could be championed by Suggs, Morrissey and Jarvis Cocker, however the earliest sensible profit to Parker was the appreciation of the comic Victoria Wooden. When Expertise, her debut play, was taken up by Granada in 1979, she persuaded the producer, Peter Eckersley, to rent Parker to rearrange the songs.
When she visited him at his house in Barnes in south-west London he found they’d a typical musical idiom. “I wasn’t a middle-of-the-road business composer and she or he wasn’t both. We spoke the identical language … I assumed I’d like to interrupt into this tv lark, I’ll discover ways to do it on the job. After I obtained there Peter mentioned: ‘We don’t know something about this so we’ve obtained you in to point out us how one can do it.’”
Parker organized Wooden’s songs for 2 extra Granada dramas – Almost a Joyful Ending (1980) and Joyful Since I Met You (1982) – and was solid because the in-vision bandleader of her debut sketch present Wooden and Walters. Parker regarded his contribution as a mistake. “I used to be an expert oboe participant. I couldn’t play the piano in addition to Vic and I wasn’t very pleased with my very own performances.”
On the time, he was having fun with his best success but as a recording artist, having set to music poems by Jeremy Lloyd a few group of woodland animals. As with Betjeman, he composed in a well-liked however un-poplike English vernacular for readings of the poems by Peter Sellers, Keith Michell, Twiggy and Harry Secombe. Captain Beaky & His Band languished unnoticed for 2 years till Noel Edmonds championed the album on Radio 1 and the title observe made it to No 5 in 1980. On the again of it Parker funded an extension to his house.
The elder of two brothers, Parker was born in Hartlepool, County Durham, and had a peripatetic childhood. His father, James Parker, was a linotype operator who throughout the second world warfare took the household to Watford, Dumfries and Birmingham. Inheriting an enthusiasm for music from his mom, Margaret (nee Mavin), who sang in Gilbert and Sullivan operas, Jim taught himself to learn music and play the piano. He led a dance band by the point he left college in Blackburn, aged 16, with 4 O-levels.
Turning away from his plan to coach as an accountant, on a whim he joined the military within the hope of being paid to be taught the clarinet. He was given an oboe and advised to be taught it in time for a broadcast in three months. He even had a solo. “It should have sounded completely dire. Usually you’d want 10 years to get to an inexpensive customary on the oboe.” By 1953 he was within the seventh Armoured Brigade on the Rhine, the place he took each musical alternative going. After three years he received a spot on the Guildhall Faculty of Music, London, the place he misplaced out on the varsity’s gold medal to the cellist Jacqueline du Pré, then spent a 12 months within the Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.
His ambition to compose was realised with the Barrow Poets, so known as as a result of at gigs they bought their work from a barrow. Setting their poems in addition to poetry by Robert Graves and Ted Hughes to music, Parker wrote for a band that included a kazoo, harps, concertinas, a home-made contraption often called a bass cacofiddle plus Parker on oboe. The association suited him. “I did like not being caught behind the orchestra,” he recalled.
From the London pub circuit they branched out in excursions of the UK after which US faculties, recording their first album with music written and organized by Parker in 1968. (Their solely hit was The Pheasant Plucker’s Track, a bawdy bauble launched in 1980, which made the Australian charts.) Parker was not a pure match for the counterculture, composing the music for a poem known as Dangerous Journey with out ever having sampled hallucinogenic medicine.
By the mid-Nineteen Eighties he was composing for televised performs by Alan Ayckbourn and Noël Coward. He pastiched English kinds in collection resembling Tales of the Sudden, Mapp & Lucia and The Home of Eliott. Most memorably, having submitted a dozen totally different concepts to the drama’s makers, he captured parliamentary pomp on three keening trumpets within the theme tune for Home of Playing cards and its two sequels. He received his first Bafta for the sequel, To Play the King; three extra got here in consecutive years for The Fortunes and Misfortunes of Moll Flanders, The Historical past of Tom Jones and A Quite English Marriage. He additionally branched out into the world of fashionable factual TV with Altering Rooms and Floor Power.
In 1997 he turned in-house composer for Midsomer Murders and went on to supply authentic scores for greater than 20 years. The waltzing theme tune included the eerie vibrato of a theremin, which he had heard on the Seaside Boys’ Good Vibrations and in Hitchcock’s Spellbound. His different long-running fee, additionally from ITV, was for Foyle’s Battle, for which he immersed himself in dance band music kinds as they modified throughout the second world warfare.
Away from tv, he composed predominantly for wind and brass – A Londoner in New York (1986) was written for the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble. A quartet in tribute to Stephane Grappelli in 2013 was a uncommon foray into writing for strings. He was made an honorary member of the Guildhall Faculty of Music in 1986.
In 1969 he married Pauline George, a dance pupil, with whom he had two daughters, Claire and Amy. They survive him, together with a daughter, Louise, from an earlier marriage that resulted in divorce.