Christopher Gunning was born into a musical family. His father Alexis was a composer and pianist, and his mother was also a pianist and had performed some of his father's works. Being surrounded by music and pianos from an early age, it was no surprise that he decided to study music. He studied at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama (where he met Geoffrey Burgon) and also at Durham University, and while he was a student his tutors included Richard Rodney Bennett who was to be a significant influence on his career. In his early career he composed music for a number of documentary films, and gained experience as an arranger for several artists, such as Shirley Bassey and The Hollies. He also achieved considerable success composing music for adverts, with notable campaigns including products such as "Martini Extra-Dry" and the James Bond-styled "Black Magic". If you're of the right age, you will instantly recognise the music from these adverts.
Richard Rodney Bennett gave Christopher Gunning some early opportunies in his career for television with the P&O documentary film "Runaway to Sea" and arranging Bennett's music for the drama film "Nicholas and Alexandria". Gunning worked briefly for Hammer Films on "Hands of the Ripper" and more recent films have included "Firelight" starring Sophie Marceau and "La Vie en Rose" where Marion Cotillard picked up the best actress oscar for her role as the French singer Édith Piaf. It is Gunning's work for television which has most occupied the composer for many years, and it is also this work which has probably made the biggest public impression. In particular the "Agatha Christie's Poirot" series (with David Suchet) has resulted in a string of films for television spanning 2 decades and Gunning's theme for the Belgian detective is instantly recognisable. The jazz saxophonist Stan Sulzman interprets the theme and Gunning has given each film its own musical identity while still incorporating elements of the detective's eccentric melody. Other notable contributions to television have included "Middlemarch", "Cold Lazarus", "Karaoke", "Porterhouse Blue", "Wild Africa" and the series "Rosemary & Thyme" with Felicity Kendal and Pam Ferris as a pair of sleuthing gardeners. The theme for "Rosemary & Thyme" is of course based on the traditional English Folk Song Scarborough Fair suggested by the programme's title, and played by the guitarist John Williams in the concert version "Rosemary and Thyme Caprice".
In more recent years, Christopher Gunning seems to have divided his time between composing for Television and Film, and composing for the concert hall. In the latter category he has now completed a total of 12 Symphonies plus concertos for oboe, clarinet, saxophone and piano. The Oboe concerto was written for (and has been recorded by) Verity Gunning, one of the composer's 4 daughters, to whom a family musical tradition has been passed. In 2010 the composer had his work featured on BBC Radio 3 (week beginning September 27th) using tracks from his latest CD of film music, and he participated in the "Concert for Care" (see www.concertforcare.com) organised by fellow composer David Arnold. That CD has now been released in the UK (with the US release due soon), and it is available as a CD or download album from these link at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.
Here's a selection of Christopher Gunning music on YouTube:
Trivia: Christopher Gunning has spoken about developing a psychosomatic skin rash while working on "The Day of the Triffids", as though stung by the fictional plants.
Update 2023: It is with great sadness that I report the death of Christopher Gunning at the age of 78. On a personal note, though I never met Christopher, I was pleased to call him a friend on social media where he frequently liked and commented on my many photos of the Scottish Highlands.
Gunning is particularly recognised for his contribution to series such as "Poirot", "Rosemary & Thyme" and "Cold Lazarus" but has been scoring series since the 1970s and has a number of TV Movies in his credits.
If you're looking for piano sheet music of Christopher Gunning's compositions, then the "TV Detctive" volume of "Themes for Solo Piano" has the themes for both "Agatha Christie's Poirot" and "Rosemary & Thyme" (available from this link at Music Room). Alternatively this volume is part of a larger "bumper book" called "TV Themes for Solo Piano" which combines the 3 individual books for "Comedy", "Detective", and "Soap & Drama" (available from this link at Music Room). The second book is much better value if you are interested in a range of different TV Themes. If you are looking for CDs with Gunning's music, some of the older recordings can be hard to find, but the more recent albums are readily available. Try the following Amazon links to check availability:
The composer's official web-site is at www.Christopher-Gunning.co.uk.