Obituary: John Addison

JOHN ADDISON may well be best recalled by music historians as a master of the lightweight whimsical school of melody, typified by his themes for movies such as Tom Jones, Sleuth and the American television series Murder She Wrote, yet what is often overlooked is a substantial body of work that covers all genres of film music, plus ballet, theatre and concert works that display a versatility that has inevitably been overshadowed by his handful of popular "hits".

Born in 1920 into a military background, Addison was educated at Wellington College, on the assumption that he would follow in the family tradition. Happily, his evident musical talents led to a change of direction and he enrolled at the Royal College of Music in his teens; unhappily, the Second World War almost immediately intervened and he swiftly enlisted in the family regiment - the 22nd Hussars (formerly cavalry, by this time a tank unit). He saw active service across Europe and North Africa and by the time of his demob he had risen to the rank of Captain.

Resuming his musical education at the RCM he studied composition under Gordon Jacob, piano with Herbert Fryer and clarinet with Leon Goossens. Subsequently, at the absurdly young age of 30, he was himself appointed Professor of Composition, a post he held until 1957, when other commitments became too overwhelming.

Already by 1948 Addison had become a figure worth watching, winning the RCM's coveted Sullivan Award for Composition and shortly afterwards having his Sextet for Woodwind performed at the Festival of the International Society for Contemporary Music in Frankfurt.

Commissions flooded in from the BBC, the Cheltenham Festival, and even the Proms. Addison was now the golden boy of the culture-hungry Festival of Britain years, and amazingly prolific, with works including chamber music, choral items and a concerto for trumpet and orchestra.

For their 1953 season the Sadler's Wells ballet company commissioned a new work from him, and in collaboration with the choreographer Walter Gore, Carte Blanche was ready to premiere in September of that year at the Edinburgh Festival. With its vivacious circus setting, it was described by one critic as "a light-hearted divertissement, where anything goes", and proved a substantial success, playing back in London until the beginning of the following year and remaining in the company repertoire thereafter. The music itself was adapted into a suite by the composer and became a favourite "lollipop" in concerts conducted by the likes of Sir Thomas Beecham, George Szell and even Leopold Stokowski.

Amidst this whirlwind of activity, Addison was also embarking on what was to become his primary profession - film music, which officially began in 1950 with the Boulting Brothers' Seven Days To Noon (co-written by the soon-to-be film composer James Bernard). Many years later, Addison claimed that in 1942 Roy Boulting had actually approached him to work on Thunder Rock, a wartime fantasy starring Michael Redgrave. Boulting, he said, encouraged him to follow the seafaring thread of the storyline and score for just a concertina and percussion. According to Addison, when the film was released it featured "an 80-piece orchestra" playing a symphonic-style score by Hans May.

True or not, the Boultings made amends by giving him a piano solo on the soundtrack of Fame is the Spur (1947) and the school song for The Guinea Pig (1948). After the award-winning Seven Days, Addison's film assignments began to build at an extraordinary pace: Pool of London (1951), a moody Ealing picture, High Treason (1952), a Ruritanian spy film with Douglas Fairbanks Jnr, two big productions for MGM British, The Hour of 13 (1952) and Time Bomb (1953), and in the same year Carol Reed's The Man Between which more than anything consolidated Addison's position as one of the major players. Though it was frequently cited as a pale remake of The Third Man, the solitary saxophone motif played by Dave Shand echoing across the bomb-ravaged landscapes of West Berlin gave the movie a haunting quality (and sold a few records too, for Ron Goodwin and Cyril Stapleton).

In 1956 Addison again tried his hand at live work, this time in collaboration with the dancer John Cranko. They concocted the revue Cranks, with a company that included the young Anthony Newley and later Annie Ross. It ran at the St Martin's and later Duchess Theatres for over 200 performances, transferring successfully to Broadway. Their follow-up show, Keep Your Hair On (1958), sadly notched up just 20 performances.

Meanwhile Addison had been brought in by his friend Tony Richardson as resident composer for new productions at the Royal Court Theatre in Sloane Square, and through 1957 and 1958 John Osborne's The Entertainer and Luther, plus works by Brecht, Ionesco and John Arden, were graced by Addison's incidental scoring.

When Richardson transferred his talents to the screen Addison was ready to work on the celluloid remakes. Sometimes unjustly referred to as "the composer for the Angry Young Men", he certainly scored several of the most socially significant movies of the late Fifties and early Sixties including Look Back in Anger, A Taste of Honey and Olivier's reprise of Archie Rice in The Entertainer. The songs "Thank God We're Normal" and "Why Should I Care?", with pseudo-music-hall lyrics by John Osborne, are now looked back upon as grim anthems for the post-Suez generation.

Richardson's change of course with the period romp Tom Jones was matched by Addison's exuberant score, mostly a duet of piano and harpsichord. The film was an unexpected world-wide hit and the score won Addison an even more unexpected Oscar at the 1963 Academy Awards.

He was now notching up three to four scores a year, and the variety of styles he successfully tackled was extraordinary. From the austere martial score for Guns at Batasi (1964) to George Melly's Brechtian Swinging Sixties musical comedy Smashing Time (1967), the lyrical nostalgia of Country Dance (1969) and the downright weirdness of Mr Forbush and the Penguins (1971), Addison took all in his stride.

With Sleuth (1971) he was back into the genre of music-hall/Victorian melodrama, and received an Academy Award Nomination. Finally, in 1977, his score for A Bridge Too Far earned him an overdue acknowledgement from his peers with a Bafta British Academy Award.

This event would appear to have consolidated something in his life, because almost immediately afterwards he moved permanently to the United States, where he embarked on the more lucrative but perhaps less artistically satisfying business of television movies and mini-series.

There was certainly no sign of his losing momentum: the massive 21-hour mini-series Centennial (1978) was entirely scored by him, as was the Pearl Harbor epic Pearl (1979), and he had little trouble adapting himself to quintessentially American subjects. One of his last feature-length films was the 1988 television movie Beryl Markham, which was also one of the last directorial efforts of Tony Richardson.

With the syndicated success of the internationally popular series Murder She Wrote (1984-96), and its irresistibly lively theme, John Addison could put his feet up and count the royalties after a long and honourable musical career.

John Mervyn Addison, composer: born Cobham, Surrey 16 March 1920; married (two sons, one daughter, and one daughter deceased); died 7 December 1998.

Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Wu-Tang Clan will sell only one copy of their album Once Upon A Time In Shaolin
musicWu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own only copies of their latest albums
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper, Alessandro Nivola and Patricia Clarkson on stage

film
Arts and Entertainment

Grace Dent on TV

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
News
art

‘Remember the attackers are a cold-blooded, crazy minority’, says Blek le Rat

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
    Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

    Diana Krall interview

    The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
    Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

    Pinstriped for action

    A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

    'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

    Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

    Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
    Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us