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The Guardian (11/Jan/2003) - Obituary: Ron Goodwin

(c) The Guardian (11/Jan/2003)

Ron Goodwin

A prodigious composer, his music struck an enduring note with popular taste

Few musicians could, so apparently effortlessly, combine three careers in one lifetime, but Ron Goodwin, who has died aged 77, managed successfully to become a major British film composer - with some 70 credits to his name - one of the bestselling, easy-listening arrangers of the postwar era, and, latterly, a remarkably popular concert conductor.

Born in Plymouth, Ron was a musical natural; he insisted on taking piano lessons from the age of five, and went on to study trumpet, composition and orchestration at the Guildhall School of Music. After a brief spell with Harry Gold's band, in 1943 he joined music publishers Campbell Connelly as a staff arranger, graduating to chief arranger with Sidney Bron.

Orchestrations for the radio show Variety Bandbox, and arrangements for Geraldo and Ted Heath, led to a contract with the shortlived record company Polygon, where he got to conduct the accompanying music for rising stars such as Petula Clark and Jimmy Young (he backed the vocalist's version of Too Young). When Polygon was absorbed into the Pye group in the early 1950s, he was snapped up by Parlophone, the junior branch of EMI, then being revamped by the young George Martin.

Under Martin's regime, the Goodwin orchestra accompanied such singers as Max Bygraves, and provided musical backings to novelty and comedy discs - particularly the classic sketches of Peter Sellers. Regular releases of instrumental works under the name of "Ron Goodwin and his concert orchestra" began to establish his reputation, and, though many were cover versions of popular songs and American film themes, a few Goodwin originals slipped through, with such alarmingly trendy titles as Skiffling Strings and Lingering Lovers.

Meanwhile, occasional film assignments were on offer - documentary shorts for the Petroleum Film Board and the British Tourist Authority led to Whirlpool (1958), a typical piece of Eastmancolor hokum. In the two years following its brief, but catchy, Goodwin theme, there were three Edgar Wallace second features, two comedies - In The Nick and the Boulting Brothers' classic I'm All Right Jack - and the elegant Trials Of Oscar Wilde (all 1960).

When Whirlpool producer Larry Bartman took over domestic production at MGM British, Goodwin practically became composer-in-residence at Boreham Wood, and, during these years, composed his first great hit, the infuriatingly catchy theme for the Miss Marple films (1961-65).

Despite a succession of light comedic scores, including The Cracksman (Charlie Drake, 1963), The Early Bird (Norman Wisdom, 1965) and The Magnificent Two (Morecambe and Wise, 1967), Goodwin also tackled darker areas, such as Village Of The Damned (1960), Children Of The Damned (1964) and the sub-Hitchcockian I Thank A Fool (1962). His six-three-three rhythm for the forgettable air-force yarn 633 Squadron (1964), and productions like Operation Crossbow (1965) and Where Eagles Dare (1969), would label his work as action-thriller music for several years.

Goodwin also began to gain a reputation as a Mr Fixit for scores in trouble. When William Walton's score for The Battle Of Britain (1969) was dropped by producer Harry Saltzman as being too dull, Goodwin stepped in with some workmanlike, and lighter, music (although at Laurence Olivier's insistence, Walton's Battle In The Air sequence was retained). Likewise, after Hitchcock scrapped the original Mancini score for Frenzy (1972), Goodwin was called in to rescore the opening titles in the style of a London travelogue - the director had heard his score for the Peter Sellers sketch, Balham, Gateway To The South.

In the 1970s, Goodwin became in-house composer for all Walt Disney's British productions, and produced a regular stream of easy-listening albums. The surprise success of his appearance at the first Cinema Benevolent Fund's Filmharmonic concert, at the Royal Albert Hall, convinced him it was possible to take live popular and film music to middlebrow audiences who had no taste for pop concerts or classical evenings, and his presentations in Europe, Scandinavia and Australasia, interspersed with his dry wit and amiable personality, made him a welcome visitor worldwide.

Television advertising jingles were another string to Ron's bow. In the 1960s, he penned Noddy's chant, "I like Ricicles: they're twicicle as nicicles", and the "Mr Sheen shines umpteen things clean" song, inspired by Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines. Frequently, he wrote his own lyrics; he recalled how, when his song for Monte Carlo Or Bust (1969) was being recorded in England, with Jimmy Durante's vocals overlayed in Los Angeles, he sent the star a telegram: "What key do you sing in?" Durante replied, "Tell Goodwin any key he likes - I'll adapt."

He is survived by his wife Heather and son Christopher.