Ron Goodwin

Theme from 633 Squadron

Ron Goodwin (1925-1993)

Ron Goodwin was born on 17th February 1925 in Plymouth. He was the son of a London policeman who was detached to the harbour-town. His mother felt that piano lessons would be a good pastime, so in his fifth year, the little Ron was hoisted onto a piano-stool and his education on this instrument began. Ron himself was at that time not really convinced about that parental ambition. In 1934 his father's detachment ended and the family moved back to London. Ron went for his elementary education to the Willesden County Grammar school, situated in the North-West of London. In the school an orchestra was set-up and Ron got slowly attracted by music. It fascinated him, that all these young people were playing different instruments but that the result was very harmonious.

When he was 11, he went to his teacher and asked for a place in the orchestra. His teacher replied: "We don't have enough trumpet players. Learn how to play the trumpet and we'll see". That's what they call "Hobson's Choice". And so he learned to play the trumpet. Ready after just a few lessons, Ron joined the school orchestra. He kept continuing with his trumpet lessons because he felt that there was more prosperity in a career as a trumpet player than as a pianist. Moreover he had more fun in playing the trumpet. Nevertheless he also continued his piano lessons.

After he had studied harmony and counterpoint, he left school in 1942. In deference to his mother's doubts about the security status and prospects of music as a career, he took a job as junior clerk in an insurance office. He held the job for three months. In 1954 Ron Goodwin recorded his first album in his own right: "Film Favourites". In 1955, Ron Goodwin was involved for the first time in composing film music. Malcolm Arnold (of "Bridge on the River Kwai" fame) had written the score for the film Night My Number Came Up, The (1955). The producer wanted several sequences with dance music in night club style. Arnold refused to write this music and so Ron Goodwin was asked to write these sequences. In the following years he wrote the music for several documentaries. 1956: "The Corrington Achievement" and in 1957 "Atlantic Line". They appear to be the exercises for the larger jobs.


But it was to be the music for 633 Squadron (1964) that finally established Goodwin on the international stage.. The main theme became one of his most well-known and for the past several years has been used as a sort of signature tune at the start of the Rotterdam Marathon to accompany and encourage the athletes. After that film there followed even more film scores of which the most well-known are: Of Human Bondage (1964), Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines, or How I Flew from London to Paris in 25 hours 11 minutes (1965), Operation Crossbow (1965), Trap, The (1966) (the theme from which was adopted by the BBC for their coverage of The London Marathon), Where Eagles Dare (1968), Monte Carlo or Bust (1969), Battle of Britain (1969), Frenzy (1972) - when he replaced a score by Henry Mancini - and Force 10 from Navarone (1978).

In 1969, a very awkward situation existed with Battle of Britain (1969). Originally Sir William Walton wrote the music for this film. The producers were not really satisfied with the music and they gave the assignment to Goodwin. Sir William Walton is a kind of an institution and there was a lot of commotion about it. But Ron Goodwin was not to blame that he was signed to do the score. That Goodwin's score was apparently better, is simply proved by the fact that it was accepted by the producers. Apart, that is, from the fact that they liked Walton's "Battle in the Air" sequence more than Goodwin's and this is used in the film. These things can happen if one can choose. And so, nobody was happy with the situation, not Walton and not Goodwin.

In "Battle of Britain" it was very important that the audience could constantly identify the combatants. Ron Goodwin therefore wrote a march for the German Luftwaffe which he called, yes indeed, "Luftwaffe March". A few years later, one of the Bands of the Royal Airforce was going to record an album with marches, including "Luftwaffe March". A march with that name, recorded by an RAF Band already existed, therefore the march was re-titled "Aces High". The first editions of the soundtrack album mention the title "Luftwaffe march". On the later re-issues the new title "Aces High" was used.

In 1970 Ron Goodwin was invited by the London Royal Philharmonic Orchestra to conduct a programme of his film music. To ease the tension between items, he improvised and told the audience some remarks and anecdotes about the performed pieces. They started to laugh. It turned out to be the turning point in his career. The idea was born to bring in concert a mixture of film and light music and the items melt together with a touch of humour. Within a few months a tour was organized and he toured constantly with different well-known Symphony orchestras all over the world, always playing to a full house. The orchestras he toured with included: The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, The Odense Symphony Orchestra, The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, The Denver Symphony Orchestra and The Detroit Symphony Orchestra.


In 1979 the City Fathers of his native town Plymouth invited him to compose a Suite for the commemoration of the 400th Anniversary of Sir Francis Drake's circumnavigation of the Globe. The vicinity of the Atlantic and the atmosphere of a harbour-town in his childhood years, probably had their influence on this Suite.


Ron Goodwin has scored approximately 70 films, there are between 70 and 80 albums released of his music and he recorded and accompanied on 250-350 singles. Films of the type like “Where Eagles Dare”, "Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines" and "Monte Carlo or Bust", to which the music of Ron Goodwin makes a great contribution, are not being made anymore. And that is unfortunate in two ways: firstly, because we will not see those kind of films anymore and secondly, because we will not hear that kind of music anymore!

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