Obituary: John Barry, film music composer

Martin Cullingford1st Feb 2011
John Barry, Oscar-winning film score composer (photo: UPP / Topfoto / ArenaPAL)John Barry, Oscar-winning film score composer (photo: UPP / Topfoto / ArenaPAL)

John Barry, the Oscar-winning film score composer, has died.

John Barry was born in York in 1933. His upbringing was a portent of things to come: his father ran a cinema chain where as a teenager he worked as a projectionist and his mother was a classical pianist, a path that took him to composition lessons with Dr Francis Jackson, Organist at York Minster.

In 1957 he formed The John Barry Seven. Two years later they played the perky accompaniment for singer Adam Faith’s What Do You Want?, a number one UK chart hit in 1959. So began an illustrious career in music where film became the focus of his attention.

In 1963 Barry was signed up by producers Harry Saltzman and Albert Broccoli to compose From Russia With Love, the second Bond film, for which he composed his own majestic 007 Theme as well as skillfully arranging the film’s title song by Lionel Bart and The James Bond Theme by Monty Norman, written for Dr No.

The brassy Goldfinger tune was Barry’s first Bond title song, followed by, amongst others, You Only Live Twice and We Have All The Time In The World, sung by Louis Armstong on the soundtrack of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Barry gave Bond his musical trademark with a heady cocktail of brass, jazz and languorous themes on strings that lent these films a distinction as vivid as any other component within them. 

In the 1960s Barry’s soundtracks bristled with innovation and excitement. His titles included Zulu, The Ipcress File, The Wrong Box, The Lion in Winter and the haunting Midnight Cowboy. The Academy in Hollywood honoured him for more orthodox fare including Born Free (1966), Best Original Score and Best Song, Out Of Africa (1985) and Dances With Wolves (1990). His only successful stage musical Billy (1974), based on the play Billy Liar, with lyrics by his frequent writing partner Don Black, was carried to success by Michael Crawford and ran to an impressive 904 performances at Drury Lane Theatre. But as Sir Tim Rice says, 'It was cinema that brought out the best in him'.

Adrian Edwards

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