Thursday 28 May 2009

Themes and Laurie Johnson

Music is an important element in many crime films and television series. A great theme can add an extra dimension to any story. Sometimes the music lingers longer in the memory than the film or tv show itself (an example is the score for the 1967 version of Casino Royale), but when all the elements come together perfectly, the result is superb.

In the movie world, I think of Roy Budd’s theme for Get Carter and John Barry’s haunting score for Body Heat as quite unbeatable. The mood of each film is set by the opening moments, in which the main theme creates a sense of unresolved tension and menace – on Jack Carter’s train ride to Newcastle in Get Carter, and the sinuous credits that precede our introduction to Ned Racine in Body Heat.

In the tv world, one of the best themes ever written was composed by Laurie Johnson, who wrote the music for The Avengers. It’s a great tune, which I loved as a boy and still much admire. Now a box set of Johnson’s work, including his masterpiece, and many other pieces of music written for the series (including ‘Return of the Cybernauts’ – not the easiest story to set to music) has been made available. Three CDs for under a fiver on Amazon can’t be bad.

Of course, as with so many box sets, some items are included which will not feature in anyone’s list of favourites. Johnson is a professional who has turned out a lot of good material in the course of a long career (other well-remembered crime themes of his include The Professionals) but I think most people will regard The Avengers as his greatest achievement.


Michael Walters said...

Fully agree with you about 'The Avengers' - the opening chords still give me a frisson. An extraordinarily imaginative programme, as well, as so many of those 1960s British series were. And many had similarly memorable themes - 'Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased)'. 'Man in a Suitcase' and of course 'The Prisoner'. I think the latter two were both by Ron Grainer, another great musical talent, who also wrote the Doctor Who theme.

Anonymous said...

I well remember Daughter's fury when she heard someone in the house seemingly watching Casino Royale. Without her! I informed her that I had actually bought a CD, which just happened to have the music. But it's nice to know that the brainwashing of children worked so well that CR is a standard film to watch every now and then at witch head quarters. The witch is old enough to have watched it new in the cinema, of course.

Paul D Brazill said...

Fantastic piece. One of my fave areas and a well deserved tribute to LJ.

Martin Edwards said...

Michael - Man in a Suitcase was a show I used to love, and the theme is terrific. I've just acquired the DVD box set....
Bookwitch - we are of similar youth, then! That soundtrack is one of the best ever written, I think.
Paul - thanks. I've been listening to some of the other LJ tracks again today, and several are growing on me.