JOHN VEALE AND FILM MUSIC
Dr David C F Wright
(For John Veale's 80th birthday)
Neville Coghill was an Oxford University don, a notable
literary figure in the University and would have known John Veale since
he was a student there reading modern history from 1940 to 1942. John
was asked to write the music for the Oxford University Drama Company's
production of Love's Labour's Lost which had in its cast Kenneth
Tynan and Lindsay Anderson. It was directed by Anthony Besch who went
on to direct operas at Glyndebourne and elsewhere.
As Muir Mathieson was the leading light in the British
Film Music business John sent him a set of acetates of his music for
Loves Labour's Lost care of Denham Film Studios. Thanks to Mathieson's
interest, John was asked to write some music for the Crown Film Unit
for which the usual conductor was John Hollingsworth who was an assistant
conductor to Sir Malcolm Sargent.
On 4 April 1954 Sidney Fell gave the first performance
of John's Clarinet Concerto with the London Symphony Orchestra under
Sargent. By pure coincidence the very next day John Bryan the producer
asked Muir Mathieson to find a composer other than the usual ones to
write the score for his first feature The Purple Plain which
was being made in Ceylon and at Pinewood. Muir asked Hollingsworth,
who was at the concert the night before and referred to John by saying
that he could take well to writing a film score. John received a phone
call from Pinewood Studios asking him to go there straight away. Here
he met Bryan and was given a copy of H E Bates' novel and told to read
it overnight and come back the next day. John was asked if he was prepared
to write the score to this film.
Now all film directors and producers are different.
Some take no interest in the music but Bryan was very fussy.
Three weeks later John was invited to see the rushes
which, in effect, amounted to a draft of the whole film and a lively
discussion followed with Matheson, Bryan and the director , the American
Robert Parrish. The question was asked if any oriental sounding music
was wanted. Bryan flatly said ‘no’. He wanted a theme for each character
although this was fussy and the audiences would not latch on to such
a device easily.
Veale was then sent a breakdown of the music required
and its precise timing. He learned quickly that repetitious music was
best so that it could be easily cut as necessary.
He had five weeks to write the music and the full score
went into 300 pages of 28 staves per page. The score was sent to Mathieson's
second in command a lady with the charming name of Dusty Buck. The studio
employed copyists to write out the orchestral parts.
Bryan was nervous. Veale was very young and a novice
at film music. John was required to go to the recording sessions which
took three days. Shortly after the start on the first day Bryan went
up to Mathieson on the rostrum and said,"Do you know what this music
has got? It has class." John took it that Bryan liked it.
John met Gregory Peck who in real life spoke with that
slow deliberate diction and that weird expression on his face. Peck
was in the bar on the last day of shooting and six of the people involved
in the film were there including John. Peck turned and slowly counted
the people and ordered six bottles of champagne. Peck was a most unpretentious
Veale's encounter with one of the other actors. Bernard
Lee was less convivial. Lee was something of a toper and offered John
a lift. It was a hair-raising experience.
John also met Win Min That, Brenda de Banzie, Lyndon
Brook and Maurice Denham.
Denham was both a very educated man and a very likeable
man. The following year he was present at a Promenade Concert when Veale's
Panorama was performed. Denham collared John and complimented
him on the piece and Denham's son wanted Veale's autograph.
In those days composers were paid by a down payment
and royalties. Only the creative contributors such as author, scriptwriter
and composer received royalties. John received a down payment of £400
and in the 48 years since the film was made he may have made £100,000.
It was Mathieson who recommended John to be one of
the twelve composers in a series of television documentaries War
in the Air. twelve composers including Bliss, Gerhard and Addison
were employed and John wrote the music for the final episode.
The next feature film was The Spanish Gardener and
again it was Mathieson's recommendation that lead to John being asked
to write the music. This film which starred Dirk Bogarde and Michael
Hordern was directed by Philip Leacock. The same procedure was followed
as to the contract, time sheets and quantity of music as in The Purple
Dirk Bogarde was civil enough but not forthcoming and
rather dull. Hordern was a very clever man but had a slightly supercilious
attitude to making films which he regarded as slumming. After all he
was a Shakespearian actor and a very fine one at that. But there is
no doubt that his performance in this film stands out. The film was
made in Spain.
John also wrote the score for some B films and worked
with the conductor Philip Martell who in at least two of the films,
Clash by Night and Emergency received top billing over
John. But he was an efficient conductor. Emergency was made as
a second feature but it was a cut above that and shown as a first feature.
It has a good story line but as with many B films the acting is rather
The opening music to Emergency is very good
and John's superb Violin Concerto is pre-empted in the music to Clash
The film Freedom to Die ran into financial problems
and Martell was beside himself. To save money the music was recorded
in Ireland at the Bray Studios.
It should be noted that the scores of many films are
deliberately destroyed by the studios. Walton's Henry V music
was saved in the nick of time by an alert individual. The Purple
Plain and The Spanish Gardener have long been burned but
the composer still has the music for other films and, perhaps, they
should now be prepared for concert performance.
Copyright Dr David C F Wright 2002.
This article must not be copied in part or the whole nor must it be
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written permission of the author."
"For a detailed biography of John Veale consult David
Wright's article on this website".