The Composers of DOCTOR WHO – Geoffrey Burgon
Christopher Morley continues his look back at the many composers who have produced music for Doctor Who. This week it’s Geoffrey Burgon…
Geoffrey Burgon contributed only two scores to Doctor Who- 1975′s Terror Of The Zygons & the following year’s The Seeds Of Doom- but the sheer scope of his musical career deserves examination! Born in Hambledon on July 15, 1941, his first attempt to tease out a tune came when he taught himself to play the trumpet at the age of 15 in order to join Pewley Grammar School’s jazz band at the urging of Nigel Jones, their clarinettist & elder brother to Terry Jones- later of Monty Python fame! From there he went on to the Guildhall School of Music & Drama intending to forge a career as a trumpeter, before switching to composition after taking the advice of his mentor- the composer Peter Wishart, who was then a teacher at the School.
Following his graduation he supported himself with odd jobs as a freelance trumpet player before selling all but one of his musical instruments & devoting himself solely to the business of composing. His Requiem…
He enjoyed success at 1976′s Three Choirs Festival, influenced by the music of the Medieval period & Benjamin Britten – winning him a greater degree of recognition. He would go on to score many films & television programmes, winning Ivor Novello Awards in 1979 ( for his score to Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy) & 1981 ( for Brideshead Revisited).
He took a rather dim view of his work for big/small screen, though! He saw it as a means to an end to allow himself to fund & devote time to what he dubbed his ‘ serious work’ for concert performances. His portfolio in this regard includes several ballet scores- his first for The Calm by London Contemporary Dance Theatre in 1974-orchestral works ranging from 1963′s Concerto For String Orchestra to 2006′s Industrial Dreams, two brass band pieces in the form of Paradise Dances (1994) & 1998′s Narnia Suite , chamber music running from 1969′s Fanfares & Variants- 2009′s Minterne Dances & vocal works from 1964′s Cantata on Medieval Latin Texts to 2006′s The Road Of Love.
Several of these vocal pieces were in collaboration with the counter-tenor James Bowman, who had begun singing as a boy chorister in the choir of Ely Cathedral, Cambridge,continuing his choral training at New College, Oxford- singing in the college choir.
Perhaps his best-known film scoring credit is his work on Monty Python’s Life Of Brian! As you may remember it caused quite some debate at the time- John Cleese & Michael Palin defending themselves against Mervyn Stockwood, the Bishop of Southwark. After that it was on to 1981′s The Dogs Of War, an adaptation of Frederick Forsyth’s 1974 novel, then Turtle Diary ( 1985)- a tale of love against the backdrop of visits to London Zoo.
You might recognise zookeeper George Fairbairn, too. He’s played by Michael Gambon, who appeared in 2010′s Doctor Who festive special A Christmas Carol as Kazran Sardinck!
Three years hence Burgon would work on a BBC adaptation of CS Lewis’s Chronicles Of Narnia…
He was also the man behind the music for the 1991 Robin Hood big-screen outing starring Patrick Bergin in the role, recently played by Tom Riley opposite Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor in Robot Of Sherwood.
Burgon was also a keen cricketer & writer of detective novels in his spare time away from his musical outlets! He is survived by his children, son Matthew & daughter Hannah ( from his marriage to the late Janice Garwood in 1963) & his son, Daniel, from his second wife, singer/pianist Jacqueline Kroft in 1992- he sadly died on September 21, 2010, with Terry Jones contributing an obituary to The Guardian, which opens-
‘Though an old friend, Geoff, born in Hampshire, wasn’t my friend to begin with. He was my elder brother Nigel’s best mate at Pewley school, Guildford, in Surrey. It was there that my brother persuaded Geoff to buy a trumpet so that he could play alongside Nigel’s clarinet in the school jazz band. But his ambitions to be a jazz trumpeter were thwarted by his yearning to write music. He taught himself notation while he was still at school, played the trumpet in a local youth orchestra, and was soon writing music for them.
He applied for a place at the Guildhall School of Music in London as a trumpeter, but they were more interested in his composing skills. Under the guidance of Peter Wishart, he found that writing music began to become more important than playing it. He later said, “I’d realised I wasn’t going to be the next Miles Davis,” so he asked Wishart if he thought he could make it as a composer. “You don’t seem to be able to stop,” was the reply. From that moment he bowed to the inevitable.’
And of his music for Life Of Brian, he said:
‘My brother suggested I should ask Geoff to write the music for the film. So – not knowing any other composers – I did.
I remember going to his house, and Geoff apologising for being a poor pianist, but he picked out the theme tunes and I liked what I heard, although I had no idea how wonderful the final score would turn out to be. The music he wrote now seems to be inseparable from the film. He gave it a simple but biblical-epic sound – so important in making the audience believe in the world, so the comedy could play against it. After working together on Life of Brian, Geoff and I became close friends. When my brother died, he gave a funeral oration in which he told the story of how my brother had got him into music, something I would otherwise never have known. He was a modest, calm, reassuring man – a good listener and a good talker – someone you longed to be with. Someone to love.’.