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In memory of Ron Goodwin

Published: Sunday Time
Date: Thursday, January 9, 2003

Composer whose martial strains became the theme for a host of war thrillers from 633 Squadron to Where Eagles Dare.

Beginning his career as an arranger and conductor of popular music, an activity he continued with undiminished enthusiasm until the end of his life, Ron Goodwin became a household name in the 1960s for the martial scores he provided for a number of classic war thriller films. Indeed, at one time the Ron Goodwin sound seemed almost indivisible from the Second World War as seen through the movie camera lens in that decade.

His stirring sounds accompanied some of the screen?s most memorable war excursions. These ranged from 633 Squadron (1964), in which they splendidly augmented the cacophony of noise and disorder of the rest of the soundtrack; through Where Eagles Dare (1969), where his score underpinned a rescue adventure full of schoolboy thrills and spills in the vertiginous heights of the Bavarian Alps; to The Battle of Britain (1969), in which, in harness with Sir William Walton, he admirably suggested the epic nature of the events unfolding on the screen, counterpointing it with the human dramas being enacted in the minds of each individual.

Goodwin simply loved music and music-making, and was as happy to create it with children in a school hall as he was on the podium of a concert orchestra. To the end, one of his favourite dates was the series of annual Christmas shows he presented with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, complete with the Christmas cracker-style jokes that were an integral part of his repertoire.

Ron Goodwin was born in Plymouth in 1925. He was interested in music from an early age, but his first few jobs were outside the music business. At 18 he found a job as a music copier with the music publishers Campbell, Connelly & Co. At the same time he studied trumpet and arranging at the Guildhall School of Music, and he also began to play trumpet professionally with Harry Gold.

He graduated to become head of the arranging department at Bron Associated Publishers in 1945, and very soon he was writing arrangements for such bandleaders as Ted Heath and Geraldo, as well as for the BBC Dance Orchestra. At the same time he was taking charge of recording sessions for Petula Clarke and Jimmy Young, whose hit Too Young he conducted.

In 1950 he joined Parlophone Records, where he became the musical director to the record producer George Martin. Artists under his baton now included the stars Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan and Sophia Loren.

Signed by Martin for Parlophone, Goodwin launched his own career in broadcasting and recording as Ron Goodwin and his Concert Orchestra. With this he toured the world, presenting a mélange of popular hits ? Abba and James Bond theme tunes ? and light classical works.

He composed for his orchestra, too, among his output being such classical-style numbers as Drake 400 Concert Suite and New Zealand Suite. Ron Goodwin and his Concert Orchestra soon became one of Parlophone?s top-selling properties, and in 1975 he received a gold disc to mark one million album sales. Among the albums contributing to this total were Film Favourites (1954), Music to Set You Dreaming (1956), Out of this World (1958), the film soundtrack of Monte Carlo or Bust (1969), Legend of the Glass Mountain (1970) and Spellbound (1973).

During the 1950s Goodwin began to compose scores for documentary films at Merton Park Studios. Then, in 1958, he was asked to write his first feature film score, for Whirlpool, a Rhine-located melodrama based on Lawrence P. Bachmann?s novel Lorelei.

Though the film was not a great success at the box office, it brought him to wider notice among film-makers, notably Bachmann, who was executive producer at MGM British Studios. From 1960 Goodwin composed and conducted the music for most of MGM?s British productions and this led to other studios becoming interested in his work.

In all Goodwin composed the music for more than 60 films, among them a series of Miss Marple titles; two films based on John Wyndham sci-fi thrillers, Village of the Damned (1960) and The Day of the Triffids (1962); the knockabout comedy Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines (1965); One of Our Dinosaurs is Missing (1975); and a further awar movie, Force Ten from Navarone (1978) ? featuring a bridge, rather than the guns of its distinguished predecessor as the target for a group of commandos. His theme music from The Trap is familiar as the theme music for BBC Television?s coverage of the annual London Marathon.

His film work did not prevent him from continuing to compose and record, also conducting his own film music on such albums as The Very Best of Ron Goodwin (1977). The album Ron Goodwin Conducts the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra (1984) featured his New Zealand Suite.

Goodwin appeared as guest conductor of many orchestras throughout the world, from Sydney to Detroit, and he was guest conductor at the Royal Academy of Music?s Festival of British and American Film Music in 1996. He was the recipient of three Ivor Novello Awards, the most recent being one for lifetime achievement. Appropriately, he received this from his first mentor, George Martin, in 1994.

Goodwin devoted a great deal of his time to working with young musicians. He was much involved with the Hampshire County Youth Orchestra and the City of Birmingham Schools? Concert Orchestra.

A trumpeter to his fingertips, Goodwin never forgot the brass: ?Don?t play what?s written! It should be Daah, Daah, Duh-Doohdada, and a fall with a half-valve gliss on the last note!? was his instruction to a Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra brass section taking its first faltering steps on the road to swing. An infectious spirit, he was a natural teacher and musicians of all persuasions were happy to learn new ways of doing things under his baton.

Ron Goodwin is survived by his second wife Heather, and by a son of his first marriage.

User Comments:

N THOMSON (2003-01-20)
I so shocked and saddened to learn about the passing of Ron Goodwin.. I was fortunate to meet him in 1998 for an interview to talk about his music for the film;- "Where Eagles Dare".. Such a great person to talk to and a true professional.. He will be sadly missed by all.
Rob Davis (2005-08-12)
I wrote to Ron many years ago asking if he would kindly let me have a copy of the score for two of the incidental pieces of music, namely the Oompah short sequence played in Zum Wilden HIrsch and the lovely waltz theme played (in the film, through bad static!) on the Schoss Adler's wireless-operator's radio.

I wanted to play the Oompah piece on the accordion and set words to the waltz tune so a friend's daughter could sing it.

Ron replied that he was happy to do so, and would when he had some spare time ... but he never did.

Does anyone have these scores, and do I tread on copyright toes by setting words to the waltz tune for a singer to perform?
nagesh s naidu (2006-04-19)
The article on Sir Ron Goodwin is indeed informative and a tribute to him and his work. The background score is unique in style and when you watch this movie in theatre equipped with latest sound system, one feel thrilled about it. I wish MGM relaunches this great movie of all times in cinema theatres all over the world and let the younger generation get a taste of it.

The music,the story, the cast and the movie itself is the best among all war movies.

thanking you for giving an opportunity to express my views

luis vargas (2008-08-25)
letz do thiz!
m.crosthwaite (2009-04-25)
ron goodwin was a giant in the film music industry.the bottom line is that he was and still is englands greatest film composer together with john barry and roy budd. compare these 3 with todays offerings and it is such a real shame that david arnold,wiseman,portman etc are very average.
Greg McCreanor (2011-04-19)
I was lucky enough to get his autograph on both the pressbook and soundtrack LP of Where Eagles Dare when he toured New Zealand in the early 1970s. I took them along to his concert at the Christchurch Town Hall then raced around to the Artists Entrance/Exit as soon as the concert ended. The concert was made even better by the encore being the main theme from Where Eagles Dare.
Bernhard Pudewell (2014-06-01)
His death is a great loss.I enjoyed his expert performances and soundtracks.RIP Ron
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