John Addison

A Bridge too Far Theme

John Addison (1920-1998)

John Mervin Addison was born 16 March 1920 in Cobham, Surrey and educated at Wellington College and at the Royal College of Music from 1938-1939. These studies were interrupted by his wartime service as a cavalry officer, but in 1947 he returned to the Royal College, where in 1950 he was made Professor of Composition. His first classical composition dates from 1948 (Three Terpsichorean Studies for orchestra) and his first feature film score (Brighton Rock) from 1946. His music for the stage began with a terrific score for the four-hander revue Cranks in 1955. There was something distinctly unusual in this highly flavoured and adventurous music, some of it mercifully captured on the original cast recording (none of Addison's future stage scores got into the recording studio). It had a verve and originality that might have proved invaluable to British musicals.

But the success of Cranks - taken up from its humble origins, it became a favourite of the trend-setting Princess Margaret - wasn't properly followed up. It was hardly surprising, because there were four film scores that year, including Touch and Go and The Cockleshell Heroes, and so it continued: three films in 1956, three in 1957; a list that only ended in 1985 with Codename: Emerald. He became a favourite film composer of Holywood, his music attracting good notices. The theatre had to make do with his songs (what used to be called 'incidental') for John Osborne's The Entertainer, originally delivered by Laurence Olivier at the Royal Court Theatre in April 1957. They were effective and neat pastiches of tawdry music-hall numbers, but hardly did much to advance Addison's reputation. Neither did his score for Keep Your Hair On, which reunited him with the writer John Cranko. A handful of the songs got into print ('I do, I do, I do', 'Misfit', 'One Day - but When?' and 'Crocodile Tears') but Keep Your Hair On was headed for quick oblivion when it put its head above the parapet at the Apollo Theatre in February 1958, and Addison's music sank from view.

A lot of musical dabbling went on between Keep Your Hair On and Addison's next musical score proper - a great deal of incidental music for plays. It was the early 70s before Addison ventured into musical theatre with both feet, but the two remaining efforts didn't meet with much success, and there was an air of half-heartedness about what he did. He shared music credits with the prolific David Heneker for The Amazons, from the original play by Pinero, at Nottingham Playhouse in April 1971, but it wasn't a good time for British musicals, and London turned its back. The following year there was a collaboration with Heneker for the adaptation of Ben Travers' old farce, Rookery Nook, now titled Popkiss. After opening at Cambridge, it got to the Globe Theatre in August 1972, but lasted only 60 performances. It was Addison's last major contribution to musical theatre, but its music seemed light years away from the spirited stuff he had written for Cranks.

When he eventually moved to America to live, firstly in California and from 1990 in Vermont, it seemed his links with British musicals were broken. They were forgotten while he earned an Emmy for his music for Murder, She Wrote, and an Oscar for A Bridge Too Far. This score deserves special mention as the supporting pieces drawn from the main theme is absolutely superb. Memorable, if you watch the film, is the piece whenever Connery leads the remaining paratroopers out of Arnhem under darkness.


A substantial number of his film scores (and they included some distinguished titles such as A Taste of Honey, Look Back in Anger, Lucky Jim and The Charge of the Light Brigade) are kept at Brigham Young University Library, Utah, and it may be that some of his theatre music lurks within this archive. He died in Vermont on 7 December 1998.

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