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John Barry, died yesterday in New York at the age of 77, following a heart attack. Barry wrote the scores for more than 100 films between 1960 and 2001, including Zulu (1964), The Lion in Winter (1968), and Out of Africa (1985).
He was born John Barry Prendergast in York on November 3 1933. His father owned a chain of eight cinemas in the north of England, and John’s first memory was of watching a Disney cartoon at the Rialto in York; later, as a teenager, he ran the films from the projection box.
His parents also organised concerts on Sunday evenings at the cinemas, and as a boy John met such musicians as Count Basie and Sir Thomas Beecham. He began to study the piano at nine and the trumpet at 16. The latter became a favoured instrument in his film scores, his liking for bold-sounding brass stemming from youthful lessons with Bill Russo, who had played in Stan Kenton’s group. He also took lessons in composition from Francis Jackson, erstwhile organist of York Minster.
Barry completed his National Service as an Army bandsman in Cyprus and Egypt, and on completing it worked briefly as an arranger for Jack Parnell and Ted Heath’s Orchestra before forming his own band in 1957. The John Barry Seven accompanied early rock and roll tours, opening for such acts as Tommy Steele and Adam Faith, whose arranger Barry soon became. It was he who was responsible for the distinctive pizzicato strings (albeit, like Faith’s hiccuping delivery, borrowed from Buddy Holly) on Faith’s early hits, such as What Do You Want If You Don’t Want Money? (1959).
The success of their partnership led to Barry’s first work as a film composer, when he was asked in 1959 to write the music for Beat Girl, starring Faith. The film was unexceptional, but Barry’s soundtrack became the first to be released in Britain. The following year he wrote the theme music to the panel programme Juke Box Jury.
Barry’s most fertile creative period was the mid-1960s. The success of his scores for the Bond films (that for Goldfinger displaced the Beatles’ album A Hard Day’s Night from the top of the American charts) led to commissions for numerous other spy films, such as The Ipcress File (1965) and The Quiller Memorandum (1966) and later for the television series The Persuaders.
The themes he wrote for these, however, tended to reflect the shabbier deeds of their heroes and made use of such unearthly-sounding instruments as the cimbalom to suggest an atmosphere closer to Graham Greene than Ian Fleming. Indeed, many of these scores were inspired by Anton Karas’s zither music in The Third Man.
Among Barry’s other scores of this period were those for Zulu (1963), Midnight Cowboy (1969) and the two which brought him his first Oscars: The Lion in Winter (1968), with Peter O’Toole as the ailing King Henry II; and Born Free (1966), the syrupy theme for which – sung by Matt Monro and co-written with Don Black – also gained him an Oscar for best song. Barry’s other regular lyricists included Hal David, Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley.