Eric James

Composer to Charlie Chaplin

Eric James Barker (Eric James), pianist, composer and arranger: born London 11 August 1913; twice married; died Whitby, Ontario 28 March 2006.

Eric James was a pianist, composer and arranger who achieved national fame on radio before coming to be known for his work on film scores with Charlie Chaplin.

In 1956 James received an invitation to Shepperton Studios, outside London, where Chaplin was filming A King in New York. Chaplin needed someone to play one of his compositions, "A Thousand Windows Smile at Me", to match the movements of an actor playing a night-club pianist. James performed the tune at what he thought was a rehearsal, only to discover that he had been recorded. On the strength of this perfect take, he was asked if he would be willing to work on a project in Vevey, Switzerland, where Chaplin had made his home.

Weary of the jokey musical tracks frequently added by other hands to his early comedies, Chaplin had decided to reissue three under his ownership, with new scores to be composed by himself and arranged by James.

Chaplin could not write musical notation and had devised various unorthodox means of recalling melodies that had come into his mind. James noted down what Chaplin could sing or pick out on the piano, writing on alternate staves so that he could fill out the composition as necessary. While the melodies were Chaplin's own, James was able to interpolate his own ideas by convincing Chaplin he had originated them.

The result of their collaboration, The Chaplin Revue, was released in 1959. Chaplin, delighted, generously invited James to write his own screen credit. James's initial suggestion, "Music written and composed by Eric James in spite of Charlie Chaplin", made way instead for the unusual billing of "music associate".

Their relationship grew to the point where James was accepted virtually as a Chaplin family member. In addition to the score for Chaplin's final film, A Countess from Hong Kong (1967) - which produced the hit "This is My Song" - James continued to work with Chaplin on music for all the silent films in the comedian's ownership until the task was completed in 1976, a year before Chaplin's death. But for Chaplin's declining health, he and James would have written an opera based on Thomas Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles, in response to an invitation from La Scala, Milan.

Born Eric James Barker in Chiswick, west London, in 1913, he received his first piano lessons at primary school, then studied every Saturday at the Sheen School of Music. Leaving school at 15, he played for dance lessons at the Hammersmith Ice Rink, then was engaged as silent-film accompanist at the Savoy cinema in Uxbridge.

It was there that he learned how to anticipate the moods of individual scenes, including those in films by Charlie Chaplin. Aged 18, Barker was made redundant by talking pictures and began playing in theatres and hotels. In 1937 he took a job as a song plugger for Sun music publishers. When Larry Adler called in to ask if anyone could play Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, Barker obliged and thus spent three weeks at the Palladium as Adler's accompanist.

Barker moved to be a manager at Southern Music and as "Jack Howard" also composed a number of popular songs, among them "Blue Eyes". He left Southern in 1939 to tour as accompanist to the popular singer Elsie Carlisle, then convalescing from a lengthy illness. He married her nurse, Leila O'Dwyer, in 1945.

He was working with Carlisle for the BBC in Bristol when he was called up in 1941, and arrived at RAF Cardington six months late, because three previous sets of papers, addressed to "Eric James Barker", had been sent erroneously to the comedian Eric Barker (already serving in the Royal Navy). His RAF career, spent organising shows, was curtailed by a bout of diphtheria.

On release, he joined Charles Shadwell's Orchestra (at this point dropping the name "Barker" professionally), broadcasting for the BBC on shows such as ITMA, and also hosting his own show, Piano Playtime. In 1947 he accompanied Ann Blyth at the engagement party for Princess Elizabeth and Philip Mountbatten. He later toured in a show called Music for You, alongside his second wife, the vocalist Phyllis O'Reilly.

In 1987 they settled in Canada, but visited England in 2000 to launch James's autobiography, Making Music with Charlie Chaplin.

Glenn Mitchell

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
England celebrate a wicket for Moeen Ali
sportMoeen Ali stars with five wickets as Cook's men level India series
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Robyn Lawley
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
i100  ... he was into holy war way before it was on trend
Life and Style
lifeDon't get caught up on climaxing
Life and Style
food + drinkVegetarians enjoy food as much as anyone else, writes Susan Elkin
Arts and Entertainment
Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint)
newsBloomsbury unveils new covers for JK Rowling's wizarding series
scienceScientists try to explain the moon's funny shape
Usain Bolt confirms he will run in both the heats and the finals of the men's relay at the Commonwealth Games
commonwealth games
peopleHowards' Way actress, and former mistress of Jeffrey Archer, was 60
Life and Style
Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson voice the show’s heroes
gamingOnce stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover
Arts and Entertainment
As Loki in The Avengers (2012)
filmRead Tom Hiddleston's email to Joss Whedon on prospect of playing Loki
voices In defence of the charcoal-furred feline, by Felicity Morse
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior IT Trainer - Buckinghamshire - £250 - £350 p/d

£200 - £300 per day: Ashdown Group: IT Trainer - Marlow, Buckinghamshire - £25...

Education Recruitment Consultant- Learning Support

£18000 - £30000 per annum + Generous commission scheme: AER Teachers: Thames T...

All Primary NQT's

£100 - £120 per day + per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Description Calling a...

Supply Teachers Needed in Thetford

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Supply teachers neede...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star