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
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
footballStriker has moved on loan for the remainder of the season
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
The five geckos were launched into space to find out about the effects of weightlessness on the creatures’ sex lives
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
booksUnlike 'talented mediocrity' George Orwell, you must approach this writer dictionary in hand
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

SQL Implementation Consultant (VB,C#, SQL, Java, Eclipse, integ

£40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: SQL Impl...

SQL Technical Implementation Consultant (Java, BA, Oracle, VBA)

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: SQL Technical ...

Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, Fidessa, Equities)

£85000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, ...

Lead C# Developer (.Net, nHibernate, MVC, SQL) Surrey

£55000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Lead C# Develo...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering