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Johnny Douglas












Johnny Douglas

John 'Johnny' Douglas (19 June 1920 - 20 April 2003) was an English composer, musical director and string arranger, perhaps best known for his work in the easy listening genre. He recorded over 500 tracks for DECCA and over 80 albums for RCA and is probably best remembered for the evocative, nostalgic score he wrote in 1970 for Lionel Jeffries's screen adaptation of the Edith Nesbit classic, The Railway Children. But the range of this enormously gifted musician is indicated by the range of artists he worked with - among them Shirley Bassey, June Bronhill, Max Bygraves, Vera Lynn, Frankie Vaughan, Barbra Streisand, Harry Secombe, Kenneth McKellar, Frankie Howerd, Al Martino, Mantovani, Ann Shelton and Billy Cotton.

Douglas was born in Hackney, London, England, on 19 June 1920, the eldest of two sons of John and May Douglas. The family moved to Bermondsey where his mother was a housewife and his father held a secretarial position until he became Alderman of West Bermondsey Council.

By the age of two, could pick out on the piano tunes played by his uncle. He took formal piano lessons from the age of four and, by 11, was studying scores and band parts while listening to recordings. By learning about instruments and their transpositions, he began to appreciate the finer points of composition and orchestration.

As a scholarship boy at St Olave's and St Saviour's grammar school, Bermondsey, he formed a dance band, mainly of school friends, and developed it to such a high standard that it regularly won awards. His first professional job came in 1939, as pianist with the Neville Hughes Sextet. The outbreak of the second world war took him into the RAF, where again he formed a dance band. An arm injury put a stop to his piano-playing for a couple of years, and by the time he was fit again, arranging and composition work had become dominant.

In the immediate post-war years, he was kept busy arranging for such band-leaders as Bert Ambrose, Ted Heath, Edmundo Ros and Cyril Stapleton. For Stapleton, he also continued as a pianist.

From 1948, Douglas took a staff job with a music publisher, in order to be able to arrange for full orchestra, and, in 1952, he had his first big hit with the backing for Tex Ritter's recording of High Noon. In all, he provided the arrangements for around 500 titles on the Decca label.

Already a seasoned radio broadcaster, in 1955 he was given a show with his own orchestra, In The Still Of The Night. Swing Song was another favourite BBC radio series in the 1960s, and, in the 1970s, he was a regular conductor on such Radio 2 programmes as The Terry Wogan Show and Charlie Chester's Sunday Soapbox. On television, he provided musical support to top international stars.

In 1958, the grande dame of RCA, Ethel Gabriel, asked Douglas to provide arrangements for the album Living Strings Play Music Of The Sea, a project that gave him the long-sought opportunity to work with a full-sized orchestra as both arranger and conductor. RCA was delighted with the result, which began a quarter-century collaboration that saw the creation of more than 80 albums, one of which, Feelings, went gold.

Douglas wrote the scores for some 36 pictures, starting in 1962 with The Day Of The Triffids, which he co-composed with Ron Goodwin (obituary, January 11 2003). Other notablecredits were Circus Of Fear (1966) and Run Like A Thief (1967); the score of The Railway Children was nominated for a Bafta award. The television films and series he provided music for included The Incredible Hulk (1982), Dungeons And Dragons (1983), The Transformers (1984) and GI Joe (1990).

Douglas established his own easy-listening record label in 1983, taking its name, Dulcima, from a 1971 film adaptation of an HE Bates story, for which he had written the score. The freedom this new venture gave him to choose his own material, and have full control over its production, enabled him, in 1999, to commit to disc two symphonic poems, The Conquest and The Aftermath. Both were recorded by an orchestra largely made up of his numerous friends and colleagues.

Sadly, Douglas's creative energies outran his physical health, but those who knew him will remember the kindly-looking, bespectacled man who succeeded in combining bonhomie and authority in the course of a 60-year musical career.

He is survived by his wife Marion and daughters Norma and Martine; his son Martin predeceased him.

Douglas's biography has been written by his daughter, Norma Camby.





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