Ron Goodwin (1925-2003) - Crime, Comedy & War-time Heroics

Ron Goodwin Ron Goodwin's list of film credits is sizeable, but not as large as some composers. However, once heard, his themes tend to be indelibly etched on the memory. This is especially true of "633 Squadron" which so eloquently speaks of soaring planes swooping and turning in the air. Of course it is no coincidence that he also scored The "Battle of Britain" and other action-oriented war films. If you include "Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines", that's a total of at least 3 films with a theme related to flying! His military music is full of marches, many with a Brass Band sound, but he has also underscored a number of thriller and comedy films. It has been said that Goodwin chose the rhythm of the "633 Squadron" theme based on using "633" as a formula for the number of beats. This suspicion has now been confirmed - see the section below from Edward Peak.

Ron Goodwin and William Walton - Battle of Britain soundtrack CD cover The Battle of Britain score has an interesting story behind it. Initially William Walton was commissioned to do the score, at the suggestion of Laurence Olivier who played a role in the movie and whose Shakespearean film roles had music by Walton. Walton set to work and produced some great music with a little help from Malcolm Arnold (himself no stranger to film music) but the music was too short. Ron Goodwin was then asked to do the score and most of the final film has Goodwin's music, with the exception of some of the spectacular air battle scenes for which Walton's music was retained. This musical combination is extremely effective, with most of the movie having a traditional heroic mood, and the aerial scenes with an eerie almost documentary feel. Recently released is a deluxe edition CD which has both the final soundtrack by Goodwin, and Walton's largely unused score. This can be found at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.

Ron Goodwin - Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines soundtrack CD cover Goodwin also scored the four Miss Marple movies (all the titles begin with "Murder" of course) by director George Pollock starring Margaret Rutherford as Agatha Christie's sleuth. He also scored several British based films including the two Morecambe and Wise movies. Goodwin has also composed a large number of concert pieces, including marches and orchestral suites in a "light music" vein. Examples of the latter include his "Drake 400 Suite" commissioned to commemorate Sir Francis Drake's return to Plymouth, where Goodwin was born (there are 6 movements depicting facets of the area's sea-faring traditions), and his "New Zealand Suite" which is inspired by sights from around the islands to which Goodwin was a frequent visitor. Ron Goodwin was also involved in recording "The Beatles Concerto". The composer John Rutter crafted this Piano Concerto (for 2 pianos and orchestra) by arranging and adapting a medley of Beatles songs into a work in the standard classical form with 3 movements. It was first performed in 1977 conducted by Robert Farnon and Goodwin recorded it with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and pianists Peter Rostal and Paul Schaefer, with George Martin as producer. The B-side of the LP has further Beatles Songs arranged by John Rutter and Ron Goodwin. See this page on Wikipedia for further information including a full list of Beatles songs included.

Alfred Hitchcock originally contracted Henry Mancini for his film "Frenzy", but then he fired Mancini in favour of Goodwin. (The DVD "making of" documentary gives a brief excerpt from Mancini's rejected opening music, and it is available on one of Mancini's albums.) Interestingly the opening scene is an aerial shot moving up the River Thames past Tower Bridge and Goodwin is certainly no stranger to aerial music. Hitchcock viewed this film as his (hopefully) triumphant return to England from the US, and this opening scene and its music has a triumphant British feel to it. After a body is found, the music returns and represents the hustle and bustle of the Covent Garden fruit and vegetable market. Then the film and the music turn much darker as we find out more about the murders and the suspects.

Ron Goodwin died on 8th January 2003. Even when well into his 70s, Goodwin was still active in the music world, regularly conducting concerts of classical and film music (his own and others). His activities and recordings were well documented on his own web-site RonGoodwin.co.uk and one can only hope that the site will remain and continue to promote his music.

Films by Ron Goodwin:

TV work by Ron Goodwin:

Ron Goodwin Recommendations:

Ron Goodwin - personal recollections of Edward Peak

In a long and distinguished career Edward Peak is now the Conductor and Artistic Director of L'Orchestra dell'Arte based in and around Liverpool, and was previously in the double bass section of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. At this time he met and worked with Ron Goodwin on a number of occasions. For example Goodwin conducted and recorded an arrangement of Peak's called "Tribute to Miklos Rozsa" which has a selection of themes from some of his big scores: Ben-Hur, Red House and Four Feathers. Edward Peak has been kind enough to share with us some anecdotes from Ron Goodwin including confirmation of the long-suspected origin of the theme for "633 Squadron":

I can certainly shed light on the questions posed about the origins of this theme.

I was very fortunate to have worked with Ron Goodwin on many occasions in my position as a member of a major symphony orchestra. As well as being a performer, I am an orchestral arranger and Ron was always very encouraging and offered a lot of constructive advice. I was honoured when he called me and asked permission to use one of my arrangements on one of his CD recordings!!!! Ron Goodwin asking permission from me - WOW!.

Anyway, to 633. I once asked Ron about this iconic score. He said that the deadline for producing the main theme was fast approaching but with no inspiration. Looking at the numbers 633 written on the, otherwise blank, sheet of manuscript paper, he started to count the numbers out loud, as per:

1 2 3 4 5 6 1-2-3

It's difficult to express it in print, but the musical rhythm is in 6/8 time and the note values are: x6 quavers followed by x3 crotchets. This gives the familiar main theme of the, otherwise fairly awful, film. Such a simple theme but then a genius always makes it look simple.

One other story I loved about a film theme was when Ron was contracted to write the score for Where Eagles Dare. The Director asked him to write music with a very exciting opening but we had to be able to hear the sound of distant aeroplane engines over the music!

The solution was typical Ron. No music at all, but just the sound of a single snare drum playing a menacing rhythm. After a couple of bars, he added a second drum. Another few bars and another snare drum, then the adding of a bass drum. By this time, the aircraft was sufficiently close for the engines to be quite loud and this is where Ron brought in the first orchestral chord. Brilliant.

The ultimate Ron story (he had a great store of these) was to do with a section from his score for The Battle of Britain. Ron had written a wonderful German-style march for the scene in which Hermann Goering's train pulled in to the station. All brass and glockenspiel and very authentic-sounding.

Some time after the film was released a phone call came to Ron. A very well-spoken gentleman at the other end introduced himself as the director of Music for the Brigade of Guards. He asked Ron if '.....we could use your splendid march for the forthcoming trooping the Colour at Horseguard's Parade in the presence of HM the Queen....'

Ron, of course, was very happy to give permission. The well-spoken gent then asked '....what is the title of your splendid march....' Ron replied, in his wonderful laid-back way, that the title was the Luftwaffe March. There was then a VERY long silence at the end of the phone after which the gent said '....er, could we get back to you about this...'

The upshot was that Ron gave the march the honorary title of Aces High. It was under this title that it was performed and is still performed at concerts today.

In one of my many chats with Ron, I asked him one day how he would define the art of being an arranger. He thought about it for a moment, then said '.....I suppose it's like being Elizabeth Taylor's latest husband.....everyone know how it goes, but it's your job to find a way of making it more interesting...'

I feel very fortunate in having worked with such a musical luminary as Ron. He is much missed.


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