Laurie Johnson obituary


Laurie Johnson, who has died aged 96, was a composer of among the most distinctive tv theme tunes of all time.

One of the crucial dramatic, accompanied by trendy visuals, was for The Avengers when the tongue-in-cheek sequence combining espionage with fantasy was revamped in 1965 for its fourth run. This coincided with the programme’s sale to US tv, a change to taking pictures from video to movie, and the arrival of Diana Rigg because the kung-fu kicking Emma Peel to help the bowler-hatted, umbrella-twirling agent and English gentleman John Steed (performed by Patrick Macnee)

Out went Johnny Dankworth’s jazz-influenced rating and in got here Johnson’s punchier composition. It begins with percussion as a champagne bottle held by Steed is uncorked by a bullet shot from his new sidekick’s pistol, earlier than they fill two glasses with bubbly. Then it switches to brass, adopted by a lush string association, as Steed’s brolly reveals a hidden metal blade that he makes use of to pluck from a vase a rose that “Mrs Peel” locations in his buttonhole.

The tune was based mostly on a earlier Johnson composition, The Shake, influenced by a mid-Sixties dance craze. He additionally wrote all of the incidental music for The Avengers from 1965 till its ultimate episode in 1969 and, after Rigg left and Linda Thorson joined as Tara King for the final sequence, he rearranged the title theme, with extra frenetic percussion and a trumpet counter-melody.

The Avengers theme

Later, for the sequel The New Avengers (1976-77) – starring Macnee with Gareth Hunt and Joanna Lumley – Johnson got here up with a funky, military-style melody to replicate the purple, white and blue title graphics.

He started composing for the display screen after success as a conductor on stage and tv. Amongst his early tv themes had been music for the crime sequence No Hiding Place (1959-67) and the espionage drama Prime Secret (1961-62), as properly a bouncy title tune for Animal Magic (1962-84), titled Las Vegas, that captured the whimsical tone of the long-running kids’s programme introduced by Johnny Morris. Johnson additionally composed The Trendsetters, the Whicker’s World theme used between 1965 and 1968.

Animal Magic

Then got here the celebratory title music for This Is Your Life after the present switched to ITV from the BBC in 1969. Titled Gala Efficiency and later rearranged by Carl Davis and others, it remained even after the programme’s return to the BBC (1994-2003).

On the earth of movie, in 1964 Johnson had written the title music for Dr Strangelove, starring Peter Sellers in a black comedy directed by Stanley Kubrick, certainly one of a few dozen motion pictures that he labored on as a composer. The Strangelove theme completely showcased his skills for writing and arranging, from the strain he constructed to the irony of a soothing orchestral efficiency of Strive a Little Tenderness.

This Is Your Life theme

Johnson was born in London to Marguerita (nee Ward) and Reginald Johnson, who bought insurance coverage. He was educated at Harrow and studied on the Royal Faculty of Music, the place certainly one of his tutors was Ralph Vaughan Williams and the place he began composing his first printed orchestral works.

Throughout service with the Coldstream Guards (1944-48), he performed the French horn in its band. He then grew to become a composer and arranger for the bandleaders Ted Heath, Jack Parnell, Mantovani and others.

Johnson first wrote for the display screen – and carried out the orchestral recordings – on movies resembling The Good Companions (1957), The Moonraker (1958), No Bushes within the Road (1959) and Tiger Bay (1959). Over the next decade his music was heard in Bitter Harvest (1963), The Magnificence Jungle (1964), the Columbia Photos double invoice First Males within the Moon/East of Sudan (1964), the director Michael Winner’s wacky comedy You Should Be Joking! (1965) and the Oscar-nominated crime caper Sizzling Thousands and thousands (1968).

In a distinct vein he employed the sounds of trumpets, English horns and woodwind to nice impact in The Belstone Fox (1973) and scored the Hammer horror movie Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter (1974).

Tv producers more and more noticed Johnson as a go-to composer. His repertoire was extensive, starting from the unique World in Motion theme (1963-65) and the kids’s drama Freewheelers (1968-73) to the sitcom Shirley’s World (1971), starring Shirley MacLaine, and the journey yarn Jason King (1971-72).

He finally went into partnership with the Avengers producers Brian Clemens and Albert Fennell to kind Mark 1 Productions and make The New Avengers. After they adopted it with The Professionals (1977-83), starring Martin Shaw and Lewis Collins, his theme tune mirrored the power and pleasure of the motion sequence. He rearranged it for the sequel, CIS: The New Professionals (1999).

With Fennell and the director John Hough, Johnson additionally fashioned Gainsborough Photos, named after a defunct British movie studio, to make feature-length TV diversifications of Barbara Cartland novels resembling A Hazard of Hearts (1987), A Ghost in Monte Carlo (1990) and Duel of Hearts (1991).

He most well-liked the display screen to the theatre, however had some stage musical success writing Lock Up Your Daughters (Mermaid theatre, 1959) with lyrics by Lionel Bart, and The 4 Musketeers (Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, 1967-68) with Herbert Kretzmer. He was made MBE in 2014.

In 1957 Johnson married Dot (Doris) Morley. She, their daughter, Sarah, and their grandson, Lawrence, survive him.


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