Biography and Interview with Ron Goodwin by John Mansell © 2002
Ron Goodwin was, and still is one of England’s most well known composers of film music. He was also a respected conductor of music that can be categorised as easy listening or light music. During the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s, his compilation albums on the EMI studio 2 recording label were popular and sought after. Within the content of these albums the composer included film music compositions alongside instrumental favourites.
The son of a policeman, Goodwin was born in Plymouth in 1930. In 1939, the composer’s father was transferred back to London, the family originally going to Kensal Rise then moving back to London before settling in Ruislip. Prior to the outbreak of war, Goodwin attended the Willesden County School. The school band had an orchestra and Goodwin was keen to join. The teacher in charge of music at the school told Goodwin that he could not do this until he had become proficient in playing the trumpet, this being the instrument that the young Goodwin had decided to take up. “My first performance in public was as third trumpet which started off with the grand march from TANHAUSER. The trumpet I played had a rotary valve, which at the turn of a wing-nut converted the instrument from a B-flat into the key of A. Unfortunately, I had my wing-nut turned the wrong way for playing TANHAUSER and launched into the opening fanfare a semitone lower than the other two trumpets”.
When WWII broke out, Goodwin’s school was closed down and the majority of the children evacuated from the capital. Goodwin’s parents however, decided that they did not want their son to go to the countryside or further afield, so they had him transferred to the Pinner County School. “They had a very good music mistress at the school, whose name was Mrs. Maggs. The orchestra was not that good and consisted mainly of strings and I was the only trumpet player. So they tried to perform things that I could perform in such as The Trumpet Voluntary”.
Goodwin never actually formally studied music composition; he did however have a few lessons in music direction or conducting with Siegfried de Chabot. After a while Goodwin landed a job with Harry Gold and Norrie Paramor, who were running an orchestral service which was providing orchestras and bands to various broadcasting companies and organisations.
Goodwin’s job with them was as an arranger and he would arrange and orchestrate varying pieces of music by composers such as Ivor Novello and Noel Coward, depending on what composer was being featured in one particular week. Most of his work was for a BBC programme called Composer Cavalcade. After a while with Gold and Paramor, Goodwin moved onto another music publisher and became a staff arranger, beginning to do arrangements and conduct the accompaniment for vocalists such as Petula Clark and Jimmy Young.
He then moved to another publisher whose manager was the singer Lee Sheridan. Sheridan had signed a deal with Parlophone to record some songs and he asked Goodwin to arrange, orchestrate and conduct the orchestra for him on these. It was at this time that Ron Goodwin met George Martin. Martin was then the assistant recording manager for Parlophone and it was Martin who gave Goodwin a contract to conduct various sessions throughout the year.
This was in the latter part of 1950 and into 1951. Within this contract was a section which said Goodwin would record at least six single records with what was referred to as the Ron Goodwin Concert Orchestra, which was really a group of session players. In 1957 Goodwin scored his first film, a documentary about oil refineries.
Work on several other documentaries followed before the composer was offered his first break into motion picture scoring by Larry Bachmann of Columbia Pictures. He approached Goodwin to provide the score for a film entitled WHIRLPOOL. The composer talked about his first film scoring experiences. “The first sessions were sheer hell, but as things progressed things began to become a lot easier or at least things seemed to go better. I think that it took me about six weeks to do the score from start to finish, including the recording. I suppose this was about normal at the time”.
During his career Goodwin scored a number of movies for Metro Goldwyn Mayer but was not under contract to them. “I think that I got a lot of jobs for MGM because of Larry Bachmann. He moved from Columbia and went onto become head of production for MGM in Europe. He called me into work on about 5 or 6 pictures a year. By the time I had established myself as a composer of film scores”.
I interviewed the composer Kenneth V. Jones recently and he spoke of scoring a film called THE TRIALS OF OSCAR WILDE. There were two films with this title and something of a race to be the first in the cinemas. Goodwin worked on one of these. “I remember there was a bit of a panic on this movie. Another version, starring Robert Morley was also in production and the respective film companies were both rushing to be the first to get their movie completed. The version that I was working on was for Warwick films, which was owned by producers Cubby Broccoli and Irwin Allen. Irwin always seemed to upset everybody, then Cubby would appear and smooth everything over. I had worked for them before on a small picture called IN THE NICK, which was a comedy starring Anthony Newley and had a title song that was written by Lionel Bart. I wrote the incidental score.
On THE TRIALS OF OSCAR WILDE I composed most of the music before seeing the movie. We were so short of time and they were so desperate to get it released, the editor would just tell me that we needed 2 minutes of music here and 6 minutes there etc; I was really writing blind. Consequently I had to at times, let the editor have cues with optional endings so that he was able to cut them”.
During the 1960s Goodwin became very much in demand and as a film music composer was either scoring war movies of comedies. His most famous theme for a movie must be the one he composed for 633 SQUADRON. Was this a challenge for the composer? “I did have some problems on the score. The movie itself was not exactly inspiring and in the end I literally took the title and set it to music. I though, 633, what about a rhythm of six beats, three beats etc. So I did that and managed to get it started from there”.
It was also during the sixties that Goodwin composed the scores for films such as THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES, a soundtrack that included many themes for the stories madcap characters. He also wrote the score for the Oliver Reed and Rita Tushingham movie THE TRAP. OPERATION CROSSBOW was also written at this time. Goodwin spoke about all three of these. “MAGNIFICENT MEN contained a lot of quick changing scenes. One minute the attention would be focused on the German in a plane then it would cut to the Frenchman and then the Indian etc, etc; each section lasting a matter of seconds. OPERATION CROSSBOW – I had to write the score quickly, why the time was so short I do not know. THE TRAP did not do very well at all. The score was released on an LP if I remember. As you know, the theme from the film has been adopted by the BBC for the London Marathon television coverage”.
In 1969 Goodwin was asked to compose the score for another war movie, THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN. He was brought in on the movie following the producer’s decision that the original score they had commissioned by Sir William Walton was not long enough and not suitable for the films needs. “The producers were concerned that the music that Walton had composed was too sparse. This meant that they were not going to be able to get an LP out of it and apparently they didn’t like the music anyway. The score that Walton had written was only 20 minutes long, so the American part of the production team was not pleased. Ben Fitsz told me that he needed the score ready in 3 weeks. This was because they wanted to release the film ready for the anniversary of the Battle of Britain. I was told that if I wrote the score that none of Walton’s score would be left on the film, so I went ahead and started work. It was a bit of a panic getting the score finished on time”.
So why did the movie still have Walton’s Battle in the Air music intact on the soundtrack? “Apparently, Laurence Olivier had telephoned Harry Saltzman and told him unless some of Walton’s music was left on the soundtrack that he would have his name removed from the film’s credits. After a lot of discussion I was told that everything was all right and Walton’s score would not appear in the film at all. To my surprise, when I went to the press showing, Walton’s music was still in place for the battle in the air sequence. The music that I had written had been discarded. The film company told me that they had listened to my music and then listened to Walton’s and decided that his was better for the film. What could we say? It was a bit of a fiasco all round. Do you know that nobody had told Sir William that his score had been rejected; he found out from a newspaper reporter who had contacted him to find out how he felt about the situation”.
In 1983 Goodwin scored a movie titled CLASH OF LOYALTIES. This was produced by an Iraqi film company and was about Iraq gaining it’s independence from Great Britain. It starred Oliver Reed and James Bolam and was recently shown in Iraq as part of the government’s propaganda campaign against western countries. “It was a huge success in Baghdad. I remember scoring the movie at the CTS studios. I thought that because of the stars it might have got a release in the West. There was a lot of music in the film”.
The composer did not score many films after the early 1980s and his last work was for the film VALHALLA. “This was an animated feature which was made in Denmark. The film did well over in Scandinavia and was also distributed in Europe. An album was issued on CD recently”.
Another comedy filmed along the same lines as MAGNIFICENT MEN was MONTE CARLO OR BUST. Goodwin’s score once again contained lots of themes. “That’s right, the film however was cut rather severely. It was originally intended to show as a road-show movie with an interval etc, but Paramount had other ideas and edited it down to about and hour and a half. It was shown in a double feature programme. The best bits ended up on the cutting room floor”.
Going back again, THE VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED had a score by Goodwin, as did THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS. The latter has just been re-recorded by an American company, Monstrous Movie Music, with the original tapes for the score being badly decayed. “VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED was one of the very few low budget movies that MGM were producing at that time. I would liked to have done more like this. It was a bit of a nightmare working on THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS. I was involved on this before Kieron Moore and Janette Scott were in the film. What happened was the film had been finished, the score recorded etc and then the Americans decided that there was not enough storyline. Anyway, they wrote in a subplot, which included a lighthouse keeper and his wife. They shot this after everything else was finished, so consequently the film needed more music. I was not available to do it so they got Johnny Douglas to write the extra cues”.
OF HUMAN BONDAGE must have been a little daunting for the composer, following in the footsteps of Korngold and Steiner? “No, not at all. I did not actually listen to the scores from the previous versions. It’s not a good idea to do that. By the time I was called in the film was on its third director. Ken Hughes finished the movie and I had already worked with him on THE TRIALS OF OSCAR WILDE and IN THE NICK. Ken was great to work with. He didn’t think he was a composer. A lot of directors do seem to get carried away when discussing music”.
André Previn’s brother Steve produced a film that you scored, what was that? “FORCE TEN FROM NAVARONE. This was not a very good movie at all. I think it was done on a shoestring budget and it showed. Steve Previn did have a lot to say regarding the music but I got through it. By the way, he was the assistant producer”. Goodwin also worked with Alfred Hitchcock on FRENZY. How did the composer get involved with this movie? “I got a call from Pinewood asking me if I could go and have a word with Alfred Hitchcock. He was quite a character. He spent the first fifteen minutes or so of our meeting telling me rude jokes. He told me that a score had already been composed by Henry Mancini but he did not like it and wanted something completely different.
He told me that he wanted a sort of grand open air piece to open the movie, something that would be written for a documentary about London. Well, I managed to get this right but he did not use the end title music that I wrote. I had composed a section that began when Barry Foster is arrested and it sort of worked its way back into the London theme that opened the film. I thought that this rounded the film off neatly. Hitch didn’t like this and used a section of music that I had composed for another section of the movie. He thought it worked but I felt it was a little bit of an anti-climax”.
Did Goodwin hear any of the score that Mancini had composed for the film? “No, but Hank rang me and asked me what Hitchcock’s problem was with the score that he had done. I said that Hitch just was not happy with the music. Hank replied, well, you win some, you lose some. Good luck with your score”.
Orchestration is as much a part of the music as the actual composing of it, or so I am told by other composers. Did Mr Goodwin agree with this? “Yes, absolutely. I have always done all my own orchestrations, except in extreme panic situations and then my really good friend Bernie Wibley would step in and help”.
Electronics are being utilised more and more in film music. Has the composer used electronics or synthesizers in any of his scores? “Not really, but I did compose a 12 tone musical score for THE EXECUTIONER and there were also some 12 tone compositions in WHERE EAGLES DARE. This was for the cable car fight sequence. THE EXECUTIONER was completely serial, then the director Sam Wannamaker wanted some unusual sounds on the soundtrack and we could not do what he wanted with the orchestra so an electronics expert Peter Zinotieff was brought in and he treated parts of the music after it had been recorded. It all worked rather well in the end and that is really the only time I have used electronics”.