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John Wooldridge was born in Yokohoma, Japan on July 18, 1919. (John Huntley’s book on British film music incorrectly claims that he was born in Barnstaple in 1911.) He was educated at St. Paul’s School, London. His first job was as secretary to a boys’ preparatory school in Norfolk. All his spare time was spent flying with the R.A.F. Volunteer Reserve and studying music under Lukno, a Swedish-Finn and disciple of Sibelius, then resident in England.

On April 30, 1938 Wooldridge transferred to the regular Air Force as a Sergeant Pilot. To get round the age of admission rule he claimed that he was born in 1917. He took part in the first British air raid of the war on Kiel on 4 September 1939 and having brought his damaged aircraft home safely was awarded the D.F.M. Commissioned in August, 1940, he rapidly rose to the rank of Flight Commander and in that capacity, flew Lancasters as a Flight Lieutenant. In the middle of 1942, for his part in the 1,000 bomber raid on Cologne he was awarded the D.F.C. When, in early 1943, defying the appalling attrition statistics, he completed the 80th of his ultimate total of 97 successful missions he received the Bar to his D.F.C. By this time he was a Wing Commander and O.C. of a low level Mosquito Bomber squadron. Wooldridge was often filmed in documentaries as a representative of the Royal Air Force and became adjutant to Guy Gibson’s 617 Squadron, The Dam Busters. Bombing landing barges at Calais for three nights successively early in 1940, he was wounded when an A.A. shell burst in the cockpit of his aeroplane and this injury eventually caused him to be invalided out of the R.A.F. in October 1945, when he held the post of Chief Flying Instructor. After being demobbed he became even more active as a composer and author; his book LOW ATTACK (1944; reprinted 1993) describing his low level bombing exploits.

On leaving the RAF after the war, Wooldridge devoted himself chiefly to the composition of film music where Dr Edward Waters of the Library of Congress described that he invariably reflected skilled and resourceful musicianship whilst meeting the needs of this medium. He was much associated with films by John and Roy Boulting (the Boulting Brothers). He was put under contract to the Boultings to write music for Fame Is The Spur and The Guinea Pig starring a very young Richard Attenborough. As was common at the time, Wooldridge made a suite from his film music for Fame Is The Spur; this was played by the Hallé conducted by Barbirolli. He scored the films Blackmailed (1950), Conspirator (1950) Woman in Question (1950), Angels One Five (1954), The Last Man to Hang (1956), Count Five and Die (1958) with a harmonica solo by Tommy Reilly and RX Murder (1958). Later, for M.G.M., he wrote the music for Edward My Son (1949) which was conducted by Sir Malcolm Sargent. He wrote both music and script for the definitive film about Bomber Command Appointment In London (1952) and he also wrote the squadron song for this film. Starring Dirk Bogarde and Dinah Sheridan this film gave Dirk Bogarde his first ‘non-spiv’ role.

Incidental music for the theatre also attracted him. The Michael Redgrave / Michael Benthall production of The Tempest at The Memorial Theatre, Stratford used his music. He also provided incidental music for productions at The Open Air Theatre, Regent’s Park, directed by Robert Atkins. Not content with writing music he was active as an author: film scripts (Appointment In London; The Man Who Hated War; The Pride Of Spenwiddy; Sandric Is Dead) and plays (Three Steps To Heaven - first performed in London (1955) and Life With The Girls first performed in London (1956).

During the first three years of the war, and in between flying, he wrote his first and most notable musical work — a symphonic poem The Constellations (1944) working alternately on borrowed pianos and the local padre’s organ. Much of this was sketched during the long bombing missions over occupied mainland Europe. Wooldridge went to America to acquaint the U.S. Service Chiefs of British plans for PLUTO and FIDO insofar as they affected the allied Air Forces. He took with him the score of The Constellations and this work was premiered by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Artur Rodzinski (1894 – 1958). Its UK premiere was given by John Barbirolli and the Hallé Orchestra. In November 1944, Wooldridge returned by invitation and with special permission from the R.A.F. to attend several British concerts.

Rodzinski had made a bargain with Wooldridge during his first visit to New York when he had conducted The Constellations. He told Wooldridge that if he shot down more than five enemy planes during the coming six months he would premiere another Wooldridge work with the NYPO. Wooldridge more than met this quota and true to his word Rodzinski premiered A Solemn Hymn To Victory in a concert alongside Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast and Ralph Vaughan Williams’s Symphony No. 5. This orchestral piece, performed four times during its early history, is "Dedicated to my comrades. Composed on the Eve of The Invasion. June 1944." Wooldridge’s presence at the premiere was no mean feat in those wartime days (see p. 262 of Halina Rodzinski’s Our Two Lives, Scribner, 1976). Homeward bound from his first visit, and flying a Mosquito, Wooldridge broke the Atlantic world speed record.

His Symphonic Suite The Elizabethans was dedicated to Her Majesty The Queen Elizabeth II. It was completed on April 14, 1953 and the manuscript score bears the inscription: "By one who having for a long time imagined himself an Elizabethan, now finds himself one in his own right." Following its Sydney premiere, it received a distinguished USA premiere by Leopold Stokowski and The Houston Symphony Orchestra (1960). Wooldridge’s celebrity as a bomber pilot and a composer secured for him a very high profile in the USA.

There are also the Largo for Orchestra, Prelude For An Unwritten Tragedy Orchestral Suite and the Prelude for a Great Occasion also known as Music for a Great Occasion for organ and orchestra and an English Rhapsody, Song of the Summer Hills, dedicated to the Boyd Neel String Orchestra.

His music includes the Slow March For The Royal Air Force which was played at the unveiling and dedication of The Royal Air Force Memorial, Runnymede and also at the funerals of Air Marshal Sir John Lessor and Sir Winston Churchill.

Famous soloists showed practical interest and commitment to his music. He wrote an Oboe Concerto for Leon Goossens who played this at The Orangery, Hampton Court. Later it was recorded in Holland where it was also performed by the Concertgebouw. His Cello Concerto was written for Maurice Eisenburg.

His The Saga Of The Ships was performed by the Sheffield Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Herman Lindans. This work, for narrator and orchestra, was written for his wife Margaretta Scott (1912 2005) who gave the first performance. This work is "Dedicated with his permission to the Right Honourable Winston Churchill – in honour of his distinguished associations with the men of the sea."

Wooldridge struck a commanding and remarkable figure at 6 foot tall, weighing 150 pounds, with brown hair and blue eyes and sporting a ‘Bomber Command’ moustache. There was nothing of the affected artistes in him; indeed he described himself as "an ordinary chap". His musical activities also included work as an orchestral conductor especially with the Philharmonia Orchestra. He married the actress Margaretta Scott in 1944 and they became the parents of Susan and Hugh Wooldridge. He died on October 27, 1958 in a car accident.

Hugh Wooldridge



LOW ATTACK (John Wooldridge): Crécy Books Ltd. 1993 (ISBN 0 947554 31 9)

ENEMY COAST AHEAD (Guy Gibson): Michael Joseph. London 1946

BOMBER BARONS (Chas Bowyer): William Kimber England 1987

MOSQUITO THUNDER – No. 105 Squadron RAF at War 1941-5 (Stuart Scott)



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