Johnny Pearson: Composer, pianist and arranger who worked on ‘Top of the Pops’ during three decades

Johnny Pearson was one of the foremost names in music for British television programmes. Among his numerous credits are the themes for 3-2-1, Owen MD, All Creatures Great And Small and News At Ten and he also served for 16 years as the arranger and conductor for Top Of The Pops.

Johnny Pearson was born in Chesterfield, Derbyshire in 1925 and he studied the piano as a child and won a scholarship to the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. He wanted to continue his studies but the family had little money and he became an engineering apprentice. He did his national service in the Royal Artillery and he played drums in an army band.

During the late 1950s, Pearson worked as a pianist for several BBC radio programmes including The Goon Show. In 1957, he arranged a hornpipe for the cartoon series, Captain Pugwash. He was a session musician on several pop hits and he arranged Cilla Black's No 1, "Anyone Who Had A Heart" (1964), which went from a poignant start to a shrieking finish.

The Musicians' Union restricted the amount of miming on television, and as a result the new Top Of The Pops programme had to employ an orchestra; Pearson was the conductor and arranger from its inception in 1964 until 1980. The singers may have spent hours over their arrangements in the recording studio but Pearson would tell them that they had 20 minutes' rehearsal to get it right for TV. At its peak, the programme was watched by 12 million viewers, and Pearson's arrangements could still be heard on re-runs.

In 1964, John Schroeder, a recording manager for Pye Records, heard a jazz record by a pianist from San Francisco, Vince Guaraldi, called "Cast Your Fate To The Wind". He wanted to record a commercial arrangement for the UK market, but Schroeder knew that he was not a good enough pianist himself. "One night on Radio Luxembourg, I heard a 15-minute programme devoted to Johnny Pearson and Irealised that he was a phenomenalpianist," Schroeder told me. "He built on my skeletal arrangement for'Cast Your Fate To The Wind'. Hewanted Kenny Clare on drums and I asked Tony Reeves to play string bass as he was an 18-year-old who worked for Pye and had brought the record to me in the first place. Johnny and I wrote the B-side, 'To Wendy With Love', and we used Peter McGurk on bass for that. I took our record to the weekly meeting at Pye and the MD Louis Benjamin said, 'I don't pay my producers to make jazz records.'

"Fortunately, Tony Hatch backed me up and asked Louis to give it a chance. The BBC used it as background music for a trailer about their Christmas programmes and the next day there was an order for 10,000 records. Louis Benjamin said, 'Good morning' for the first time since I had joined the company and he offered me a new chair and a new wastepaper basket."

"Cast Your Fate To The Wind" was a Christmas hit and although it only climbed to No 5, it was on the charts for four months. It made the USTop 10 and was more successful than the American original. Pearsonhad only been paid an £8 session fee for the record, and after being promised better terms, Sounds Orchestral had further chart singles with "Moonglow" in the UK and "Canadian Sunset" in the US.

Sounds Orchestral's strength was in easy listening albums, always involving Pearson, Clare and McGurk with an orchestral accompaniment of violins, cellos and violas. The first album, Cast Your Fate To The Wind (1965), featured a nude model on its cover, which was controversial for its day, but it helped to demonstrate that easy listening records could appeal to a younger audience if marketed correctly. Their many themed albums included James Bond themes, Latin-American music and film hits.

Pearson often wrote library music – that is, music that was available for use in all manner of productions – and he struck lucky in 1971 when the producer, Bill Sellars, selected "Sleepy Shores" as the theme for the programme Owen MD starring Nigel Stock. Sellars felt it was too slow and with Pearson's permission, he played the album track at 45rpm and it became a Top 10 single in 1971. The music was also used in the 2006 film, Children Of Men.

In 1978, Sellars was making a TV series based on James Herriot's reminiscences of being a vet in the Yorkshire Dales, All Creatures Great And Small, starring Christopher Timothy. This time he selected "Piano Parchment", which Pearson had recorded in 1968, as the theme music and the series ran for 12 years.

Since 1967, Pearson's music has been heard every day, as he wrote the ominous theme for ITV's News At Ten. This was an extract from "The Awakening", which was taken from an album he had made with the Group 50 Orchestra called 20th Century Portrait. He also wrote the music which started the daily transmission of ATV's and Grampian TV's programmes, and his many other credits include the brash and bouncy music for the quiz 3-2-1, which ran from 1978-87). His theme for the BBC sporting series Superstars was taken up in the US and became the long-running theme for Monday Night Football.

Because of other commitments, Pearson did not work on many films, but he did write the score of The Jokers (1967), directed by Michael Winner and starring Michael Crawford and Oliver Reed. He was also the conductor on the sex romp Let's Get Laid (1977), although it's fair to say that nobody was paying much attention to the music.

John Valmore Pearson, pianist, composer and arranger: born Chesterfield, Derbyshire, 18 June 1925; married; died 20 March 2011.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft and co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
businessUber, Snapchat and Facebook founders among those on the 2015 Forbes Billionaire List
news... and what your reaction to the creatures above says about you
Homer’s equation, in an episode in 1998, comes close to the truth, as revealed 14 years later
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
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

Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - Covent Garden, central London - £45k - £55k

£45000 - £55000 per annum + 30 days holiday: Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - ...

Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator - Lancashire - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: 3rd Line Support Engineer / Network ...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Web Developer

£26000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Web Developer is required to ...

Ashdown Group: PeopleSoft Developer - London - £45k

£45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: PeopleSoft Application Support & Development ...

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003