JOHNNY DOUGLAS BIOGRAPHY
(John Henry Douglas)
19.06.1920 – 20.04.2003
© Norma Camby, last amendment 2009
Permission Granted for use on this Web Site
JOHNNY DOUGLAS was born in Hackney, London, England, on June 19th 1920, the eldest of two sons of John and May Douglas, two good, honest, working class people. The family moved to Bermondsey where his mother was a housewife and his father held a secretarial position until he became Alderman of West Bermondsey Council.
One of his earliest recollections was playing gramophone records on a machine that produced sound via a large green horn. By associating the music he heard with the colour and design of the labels on the 10” heavy and sometimes single sided records, he learned how to select the tune he wanted to hear. Music fascinated him above all else and he would often sit spellbound by the side of his uncle while he was playing the piano and the harmonium. At the tender age of 2˝ years, his parents listened, not believing their own ears, when he played on the piano, one finger fashion, one of the popular tunes of the day that he had heard on one of his father’s records. He remembered playing “The Washington Post” that he learned from a record, which he felt sure was a green labelled Regal Zonophone.
Johnny went to school at the age of 3 years where he was soon asked to demonstrate his pianistic ability to the assembled teachers. At 3˝ years he played a duet with the head teacher at a school concert - the piece, Rendezvous. He started piano lessons when he was 4 years old and gradually became interested in how music sounds were made. His music teacher discovered that he could name the notes with his back to the piano. This seemed not in the least extraordinary to him until she brought in all the occupants of the house to witness his “trick”. He then began to realise that he had performed something unusual.
He discovered the mysteries of arranging and orchestration at about 10 years old and it was then that he knew his destiny. From 11 years on, he gleaned knowledge of instruments and transpositions and, by studying printed band parts and listening to records, he slowly became aware of the art of composition integrated with orchestration. It was this creative ingredient that was the hardest part. He won a government scholarship to St. Olaves & St. Saviours, a grammar school in Tooley Street, Bermondsey and, at the age of 13 years, he formed a band, mainly of school friends, and this led to winning awards in dance band contests. He left school when he was 18 years old, continued with his band and began working as a clerk in an accounts office. He soon realised this was not for him and that he wanted to make music his career.
He made his first professional appearance in 1939 as pianist with the Neville Hughes Sextet and soon afterwards was called up for war service in the Royal Air Force, serving on various aerodromes in Scotland and England. He formed his own R.A.F. dance band and when, later, an arm injury prevented him from playing the piano for about two years, he concentrated on his real love – arranging and composing. He won a Melody Maker Jazz Jamboree award for the best dance band composition.
After the war he sent a copy of one arrangement to all the bandleaders of the day. George Elrick replied and engaged him as staff arranger. He began arranging for many famous bands including Bert Ambrose, Ted Heath and Edmundo Ros then became pianist/arranger with the Cyril Stapleton Band and pianist with broadcasting outfits of all kinds. He gained much all-round experience playing at society balls, including playing for Her Majesty the Queen when she was a young princess.
In 1948, to gain more experience, he joined a music publisher as staff arranger and there began to write for orchestras rather than dance bands. He started scoring and conducting vocal backings for Decca in 1952 and his first hit was Tex Ritter’s High Noon, released on Capitol. During the next three years he recorded over 500 titles for Decca, backing many famous names including Al Martino, and was Musical Director on many hits. It was at this time that he started broadcasting with his own orchestra but it was not until 1958 that his childhood dream, to conduct a huge orchestra, came true. He was asked to score “LIVING STRINGS PLAY MUSIC OF THE SEA” for RCA. It was recorded at the Kingsway Hall, London, with an orchestra of 61 musicians, an experience he was never to forget. This began his long association with RCA, New York, where it was his good fortune to work with A & R producer, Mrs Ethel Gabriel. During the next twenty-five years he scored and conducted 80 albums for RCA alone and received a GOLD disc for the RCA album entitled “FEELINGS”.
In 1955 he began broadcasting with the BBC, with his own programme entitled “IN THE STILL OF THE NIGHT”, and there have been countless broadcasts since. From 1960 onwards his work increased tremendously. He began composing and scoring for films, had his own programme, again on BBC radio, entitled “SWING SONG”, which ran for two years, and was arranging for TV shows for such international stars as Shirley Jones, Howard Keel, Vera Lynn and Shirley Bassey. He was also arranging for numerous other recording artists.
Johnny had to his credit over 100 albums and 36 feature films, the most well known of the latter being “THE RAILWAY CHILDREN”, for which he received a British Academy Film & TV Arts Nomination, and “DULCIMA”, for which he conducted the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. He composed and arranged the music for the American TV children’s series “Spider-man and his Amazing Friends”, Dungeons & Dragons”, and “The Incredible Hulk”. He was also composer of the incidental music and arranger of all the music for “The Transformers” and "G.I.Joe”. All the series have been shown on worldwide television.
During the 70’s Johnny was a frequent contributor to BBC Radio 2 programmes such as “Open House”, Top Tunes”, “After Seven”, The Terry Wogan Show”, The Tony Branson Show”, “The Late Night Extra”, “Music To Midnight” and “Charlie Chester’s Sunday Soapbox”, either with his own orchestra or conducting one of the Radio orchestras. He can still be heard on BBC National and Local Radio. Tracks from his albums with THE JOHNNY DOUGLAS ORCHESTRA and THE JOHNNY DOUGLAS STRINGS are frequently played on the various easy listening programmes.
In 1983 Johnny started his own record label – DULCIMA, producing top quality digitally recorded easy listening albums with different artists and with his own orchestra. At the end of 1999 he completed his first classical composition - a symphonic poem. It is a light classical work with three movements, entitled “The Conquest”. The work was recorded for the DULCIMA label and was highly acclaimed by musicians, colleagues and radio presenters. This encouraged him to write a sequel, another symphonic poem entitled “The Aftermath”, as well as a descriptive composition for solo flute entitled “The Blue Damsel-fly”. These compositions are available on an album of new classical works entitled “Johnny Douglas in Concert”, with the Dulcima Symphony Orchestra, released on the DULCIMA label on compact disc only – DLCD 117.
The latest and eighth Johnny Douglas release on the DULCIMA label is entitled “Just Pure Gold”. It is a combination of two more of the albums he recorded for Decca in the 1950s. It is released on compact disc only – DLCD 119.
Johnny felt that God had given him a wonderful gift and that he was a very fortunate man. His music meant the world to him and he appreciated it had given him a good life and opportunities to meet wonderful people and go to wonderful places. He considered one of his biggest achievements was conducting the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra for the film “Dulcima”. He regretted that he had not composed for more films. He was very proud of his own record label, Dulcima, and he was still contributing to the running of it until two days before he died.
Johnny had many amusing anecdotes and stories to tell. One occasion that most amused him was when he was asked on to the set of “The Railway Children” in Yorkshire to meet Dinah Sheridan. He was invited to a fish & chip supper party in one of the caravans. He was so taken with Dinah Sheridan that, not concentrating on his meal, he upset his supper on the floor, much to the amusement of the party and embarrassment to himself.
Johnny was a modest man and a true professional. He had a group of regular musicians that he could call upon for his recording sessions and went to great trouble to make sure a date was fixed to suit their availability. He knew then that the music he had written would be played, as he wanted it, with the minimum rehearsal. One of his regular trombone players, Bill Geldard, has said, “It was very exacting to play under his baton. Second best was not good enough. The written music was correct and it had to be played correctly and well. But unlike many conductors he was quietly firm, persistent and polite.” He did many recordings for American producers. One, Phil Stout has said. “He was a consummate professional, and above all else a gentleman who was always kind and receptive.” He worked with numerous artistes. Moira Anderson, with whom he had great pleasure recording on the Dulcima label, has said, "Johnny Douglas was a brilliant musician and arranger and because he was so naturally talented it was a joy to work with him. He was meticulous in every aspect of his life, from his appearance to his musical scoring. Johnny had a great sense of humour, always a twinkle in the eye and could extract the best from his artistes. He has gone but his lovely music will live on." Mike Ross-Trevor, Sony Recording Studios, was his recording engineer. He says, “I have known and worked with Johnny Douglas for the last thirty years on many of his recording projects for film and record. He was a very fine musician, conductor and composer and respected by his peers. He was always very well prepared and meticulously organised in the recording studio and always achieved the very best from everyone involved in his recording projects. His quiet relaxed manner was always maintained throughout the sessions. He kept light music alive in an era dominated by rock music and carried on writing the kind of music he loved. He was a true gentleman of the old school of British composers, the like of which we shall never see again. The world of light music will not be the same without him”
Regrettably and sadly Johnny Douglas passed away in the early evening of Easter Sunday, April 20th 2003, at his home in Bognor Regis in the arms of his devoted and loving wife, Marion. He died of prostate cancer. It had been in remission for over seven years but sadly it recurred and in March he was told there was no more medical treatment he could have. He retained his sense of humour right to the end and, as he was during his life, even at the end he was an inspiration to all his family and friends. He is survived by his wife, Marion, two daughters (his son sadly died in 1988) and three grandchildren. His love, his music and name will live forever.
Moira Anderson, Shirley Bassey, The Bachelors, John Boulter, June Bronhill, Dora Bryan, Max Bygraves, Stuart Gillies, Dulcie Gray, John Hanson, Dickie Henderson, Vince Hill, Frankie Howerd, Teddy Johnson, Denis Lotis, Vera Lynn, Janie Marden, Alfred Marks, Kenneth McKellar, Lita Rosa, Mike Redway, Joan Regan, Malcolm Roberts,
Patricia Routledge, Harry Secombe, Semprini, Ann Shelton, Jimmy Tarbuck, Bruce Trent, Dickie Valentine, Frankie Vaughan, David Whitfield, Rita Williams, Mark Wynter and
American artists for whom Johnny has worked (alphabetically): -
Shirley Jones, Howard Keel, Al Martino, Barbra Streisand and Tex Ritter.
Bert Ambrose, Stanley Black, Frank Chacksfield, Billy Cotton, Ted Heath, Joe Loss,
Ken Mackintosh, Mantovani, Jack Parnell, Lou Prager, Edmundo Ros, Cyril Stapleton,
Eric Winstone, and ALL the BBC Radio orchestras.
The Touch of Death, The Hi-Jackers, Strictly for the Birds, Mozambique, Day of the Triffids, Crack in the World, Kid Rodeo, Bikini Paradise, Run Like a Thief, The Bay of Saint Michael, The Guns of Casa Grande, The Stalkers.
21 films in the “Scales of Justice” series.
The Traitors – a Cannes Film Festival award winner.
The Railway Children, for which he was nominated for the Anthony Asquith Award by BAFTA.
Dulcima, for which he conducted The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.
September 2004 © Norma Camby, permission granted for use on the Percy Faith Pages website, also for Wikipedia