His Recollections of a Life in British Musical Theatre
As Told to Reuben Musiker
This distinguished British composer, conductor and musical director celebrated his 80th birthday on 2 December 2004. He now lives in Israel. To mark the occasion, he agreed to contribute an overview of some of the highlights and achievements in his long and illustrious career for ‘Journal into Melody’. This publication is particularly appropriate as Cyril Ornadel holds Robert Farnon in the highest possible esteem. He writes about their association in a recent letter to Reuben Musiker:
‘Robert Farnon had an enormous influence on my love of light music. When I was a student at the Royal College of Music with Laurie Johnson (The Avengers/The Professionals), Ivor Rabin (Oscar Rabin’s son) and David Katz (later to become one of England’s foremost orchestral contractors for recordings and films in the second half of the 20th century), Robert Farnon used to allow us to come to the rehearsals of his Sunday Afternoon Broadcasts from a studio in Piccadilly.
His sensational orchestrations had a never-to-be-forgotten influence on our various musical lives. I particularly remember one rehearsal when a musician had difficulty in phrasing a particular section of an arrangement. Bob Farnon asked him if he minded if he showed him how he would like it played, borrowed his instrument and performed it effortlessly. He was able to play every instrument in the orchestra.
During our time at college, Laurie Johnson formed an Andre Kostelanetz type orchestra. I wrote the signature tune and played the piano and Laurie did all the orchestrations. It was all part of our formative years.
Many years later, Bob Farnon was scheduled to conduct the Cologne Radio Orchestra for a BBC broadcast in the World Premiere of a ‘Beatles Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra’ orchestrated by John Rutter and performed by the international piano duo ‘Rostal and Shaeffer’.
At the last minute, Farnon got sick and recommended the BBC to contact me to see if I was available to stand in for him. Happily I was and as a result of his kindness I was flown to Cologne and conducted the first performance of the concerto.’
Cyril Ornadel has completed his autobiography, which is to be published in the near future under the title ‘Reach for the Moon’. He writes as follows about his book and the highlights of his career:
‘Reach for the Moon covers my years in West End theatres, films, television and recording studios, from 1948 to 1988, working with the cream of British musicians and international stars of those years. I tell stories about the shows that I was involved in as Musical Director of the original productions in the West End, which include ‘Kismet’, at the Stoll Theatre in Kingsway, with Dorreto Morrow and Juliet Prowse, ‘My Fair Lady’ at the Drury Lane Theatre, with Rex Harrison, Julie Andrews and Stanley Holloway, and ‘Call Me Madam’ at the London Colosseum with Anton Walbrook.
My experiences with composers, [include] Leonard Bernstein, Lerner and Loewe, Forrest and Wright. Producers [include] Jack Hylton, Lord Lew Grade, Lord Bernard Delfont, Val Parnell, George and Alfred Black, Tom Arnold, ‘Binkie’ Beaumont and Ross Taylor. Directors [mentioned include] Moss Hart, Albert Marre and Robert Nesbitt.
World Famous Stars [include] Yul Brynner, Nat King Cole, The Crazy Gang, Paul Robeson, Mario Lanza, Judy Garland, Sir Noel Coward and a host of others [encountered] during my years as the Musical Director of the London Palladium, together with the ‘Sunday Night at the London Palladium’ television series with Bruce Forsyth.
In the recording field, I conducted the stereo version of ‘My Fair Lady’ with the original stars and my own MGM series of the Starlight Symphony Orchestra celebrating the music of Jerome Kern, Rodgers and Hart, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Lerner and Loewe and Cole Porter.
Compositions of several musicals include ‘Pickwick’ with Leslie Bricusse, starring Sir Harry Secombe; ‘Ann Veronica’ with David Croft, starring Dame Dorothy Tutin; ‘Starmaker’ also with David Croft for Jack Hulbert and Cicely Courtneidge; ‘Great Expectations’ with Hal Shaper, for Sir John Mills and Lesley Ann Downe; ‘Treasure Island’ also with Hal Shaper, for Lord Bernard Miles, the last two winning Ivor Novello Awards (The English Oscars) for the best musicals of those years.
Songs include ‘Portrait of My Love’ written by Norman Newell and recorded by Matt Monro. I have received a BMI award for 2 million broadcasts of ‘Portrait of My Love’ world-wide. ‘If I Ruled the World’ [was] written with Leslie Bricusse [and] recorded by Sir Harry Secombe and Tony Bennett, both of whom won Ivor Novello Awards.
The book is an insight into the British Musical Theatre scene, covering four decades, which has never been told before from a composer/conductor’s viewpoint.
I also have many photographs and programmes taken with various stars of stage and screen. I was a founder director of The World Record Club, England’s first record mail order company, which included Lord Richard Attenborough and Steve Race on the Editorial Board.
Among the many projects we created, for which I was the record producer, were ‘The Living Bible’ narrated by Lord Laurence Olivier and ‘The Living Shakespeare’ series of recordings, which featured the cream of British actors and actresses of the second half of the twentieth century.
For films, I composed the scores of 30 pictures including the remake of ‘Brief Encounter’ with Sophia Loren and Sir Richard Burton.
As Director of Music for the television series of ‘The Strauss Family’, I conducted the London Symphony Orchestra, which was also recorded, winning them their first gold disc. Also with the London Symphony Orchestra, I conducted the award winning television series ‘Edward the Seventh’.
Over 1000 of my compositions are listed in the Book’s extensive appendix. I have been awarded the ‘Gold Badge of Merit’ by the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors (BASCA) for services to British music.’
A biography and discography of Cyril Ornadel can be found in the book ‘Conductors and Composers of Popular Orchestral Music’ by Reuben and Naomi Musiker (Greenwood Publishers, 1998).
Reuben Musiker 2004