Tony Osborne: Composer and arranger who worked with Shirley Bassey, Judy Garland and Eartha Kitt

Tony Osborne was devoted to making music. He was a talented trumpeter and pianist but he made his mark as a gifted arranger on many successful singles and albums during the 1950s and '60s. He was a consummate professional able to cope with prima donna antics from the likes of Shirley Bassey, Eartha Kitt and Dorothy Squires. "There's no problem," he remarked. "You just talk back to them in the same language."

Tony Osborne was born Edward Osborne near Cambridge in June 1922. He became the junior accordion champion of East Anglia and then, when only 14, played with Josephine's Gypsy Orchestra. He had the same name as his father and grandfather but he tired of being called "Little Teddy". When he joined the RAF in 1942, he asked everyone to call him "Tony". He served in Cairo and the Middle East and played the trumpet on social occasions. He developed his technique and was a fine player by the end of the war.

Osborne looked for work as a professional musician. "I really wanted to be a pianist but most bands only have one pianist, one drummer and one bass player," Osborne told me in 2003, "However, they usually had a few trumpet players so there was more work playing trumpet."

Osborne's first job was a trumpeter and relief pianist with Cyril Stapleton, and then with Frank Weir, Carroll Gibbons and Ambrose. He played in the BBC Orchestra for the comedy successes, The Goon Show and Take It From Here. He found himself in demand for arrangements and told me, "I could write four arrangements in a day if I was prepared to sit up all night."

Soon Osborne was working for the major companies of the day, notably with EMI, and he formed his own band, the Brass Hats, for weekly appearances on the BBC TV teenage show, Six-Five Special. When that was superseded by Juke Box Jury in 1959, Osborne wrote and recorded the theme song, "Juke Box Fury", under the name of Ozzie Warlock and the Wizards. When Osborne fell out with the show's producer, Russell Turner, Turner replaced his tune with John Barry's "Hit And Miss", which began Barry's run of success.

In 1957, Osborne wrote the arrangement for Gracie Fields' hit recording of "Around The World", which was produced by Norman Newell. "The engineer thought that there was some problem with the microphones," said Osborne, "as we kept hearing this click on Gracie's mic. We changed it over and it was still there. Eventually, we realised it was Gracie's false teeth. Norman said, 'Would you mind telling her?' I said, 'No, I just write the music and conduct. You're the producer: you do the hard stuff.' Fortunately, her husband Boris was there and he had a chat with him. Just before we started another take, I noticed that Gracie had opened her handbag and slipped something inside. We got a perfect take and it was a Top 10 single."

In 1960, the American star Connie Francis recorded in England and Osborne wrote and conducted the arrangement for her million-selling "Mama", which was sung in Italian. "I never thought of that as a hit single," said Osborne, "but Pete Murray got behind it and everybody loved it." Among his arrangements were "Sisters" for the Beverley Sisters, "Out Of Town" for Max Bygraves, "Love Is" for Alma Cogan, "Little Donkey" for Nina and Frederik, and "Say It With Flowers" with Dorothy Squires and Russ Conway.

Osborne often worked with Shirley Bassey, writing songs for her ("Gone" and "You") and arranging her very dramatic hit single, "I (Who Have Nothing)" in 1963. "I wrote that in 5/4 which enabled us to put a big tympani beat in it. Shirley wouldn't have known if it was 5/4 or 10/4 but it didn't matter as she was somebody who could feel an arrangement and knew when to come in."

In 1964, Osborne conducted Bassey's appearance at Carnegie Hall and could not resist being the opening act as a Liberace-styled pianist. "I was honoured to work in Carnegie Hall with Shirley and she really wowed them. I also worked with Eartha Kitt and I was surprised that they were so friendly with each other. You would expect femme fatales to be at each other's throats!" Osborne was to make the albums, The Romantic Eartha and Love For Sale (both 1984) with Kitt.

Osborne found time for family life as he married Joan Mason from Lancashire in 1948 and they had two children, Gary and Jan. Gary became a successful lyricist, writing The War Of The Worlds with Jeff Wayne and "Blue Eyes" with Elton John. Osborne gave Gary his start by writing with him for the pop film, Everyday's A Holiday (1965) starring John Leyton and Freddie and the Dreamers. As an arranger, Osborne had considerable help from his brother-in-law Bob Adams, a saxophonist, who would often book musicians for him.

Around the late 1950s, Osborne began recording under his own name, favouring place names for his instrumental titles – the best known are "The Lights Of Lisbon", "The Man From Marseilles", "The Windows Of Paris", which became the theme music for the BBC drivetime programme, Roundabout and was recorded by Bing Crosby, with lyrics by Johnny Mercer, and "The Man From Madrid", a Top 50 entry in 1961. He also had a chart hit with "The Shepherd's Song" in 1973. "There was a simple reason for all those place names," said Osborne, "I thought somebody might be making a documentary about Spain or somewhere and the music would get recycled."

In 1969, Osborne conducted Judy Garland's final concerts, which took place in Scandinavia. "She had health problems but as soon as the opening bars of the music started, they all went. She did a perfect show every time" Osborne became friendly with the opening act, Johnnie Ray. When he and Ray were at the bar, Osborne said, "I drink to that," and Ray replied, "Tony, you'd drink to a car crash."

During Mantovani and Melachrino's popularity in the mid-50s, Osborne had made an album as Melavano. In the early 70s, he became Lazlo Tabor for the album Gypsy Romance with a 60- piece orchestra. The arranger, Sordo Gomez, was also Osborne. "I didn't want to confuse the public as my name was associated with other things and it was a very, very good record because we had great musicians on it. Eric Robinson, the conductor, had a BBC programme and not knowing it was me, said, 'There's no doubt that was made in Hungary as we can't make records like that over here.' His orchestra burst out laughing because half of them, including the fiddle players, had been on the record. He never forgave me for making him look foolish."

A very sociable person, Osborne enjoyed a life of wine, women and song, and, unsurprisingly, his marriage broke up in the late '60s. When he started playing on cruise ships, he met and then married Faye Morgan, who designed sporting and theatrical costumes. They settled in Sydney and he led a tour with six surviving members of the Glenn Miller Orchestra. After Faye's early death in 1997, he chose to remain there. He spent the remaining years of his life listening to music and enjoying a residency as the pianist at the Sydney Yacht Club. "I still keep in touch with my old friends," he remarked, "They phone up to see if I'm still alive." Sadly, not any more.

Spencer Leigh

Edward Benjamin Osborne (Tony Osborne), composer and musician: born Cambridge 29 June 1922: married 1948 Joan Mason (one son, one daughter), secondly Faye Morgan (deceased); died Sydney 1 March 2009.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
tv
Sport
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Voices
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
music
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvName confirmed for third series
Sport
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
art
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine