York Civic Trust Plaques

John Barry (1933-2011)

Location of plaque: the Pavilion Hotel, Main Street, Fulford

TO be honest, John Barry needs little introduction. The composer of 11 James Bond scores and so much other iconic film music (he won Academy awards for Born Free, The Lion in Winter, Out of Africa and Dances with Wolves) must be one of the most famous composers of the modern age.

But what do you really know about him?

Well, he didn't begin life as a Barry, for a start, but as a Prendergast.

John was born on November 3, 1933 in Holgate Nursing Home, the youngest of three children of Jack Prendergast, the York cinema proprietor, and his wife, Doris. The family lived at 167 Hull Road before moving to Fulford House (now the Pavilion Hotel). They lived a comfortable life with a full-time nanny for the three children. John's mother was a concert pianist and Jack ran eight independent cinemas in the North of England.

John was educated at the Bar Convent school and then St Peter’s, where he was taught piano, basic harmony and counterpoint by the legendary York Minster organist Francis Jackson.

As a teenager, John discovered jazz, playing the trumpet and taking a correspondence course for jazz arrangers. He was only 15 when Stan Kenton played one of his arrangements on stage and Johnny Dankworth played an early piece by him on the radio. He played jazz in a York jazz band, the Modernaires, from 1951 before two years' national service in Cyprus and Egypt.

In 1957, by now calling himself John Barry, he formed the John Barry Seven. The group had several instrumental hits, including Walk Don’t Run and Hit and Miss, the theme of BBC TV’s Juke Box Jury.

The group became regulars with Adam Faith on the Saturday BBC teatime show Drumbeat, and it was Faith’s involvement in films such as Beat Girl and Never Let Go (with Peter Sellers) that helped Barry move away from pop singles and into film scores.

Barry’s career turned a corner when he was hired by producer Harry Saltzman and Albert ‘Cubby’ Broccoli to work on the soundtrack for the first James Bond film, 1962's Dr No. There was controversy over who was responsible for composing the original James Bond theme: this was credited to Monty Norman, though Barry contested this.

Nevertheless, Barry worked on the music for 11 Bond films in all, creating a musical style (fusing romantic string melodies with explosive outbursts of brass) which became synonymous with Bond for film audiences.

He went on to become one of the most successful film composers of the late twentieth century, writing more than 120 scores for film and television, winning a clutch of Oscars, four Grammys, a Bafta and a Golden Globe. Not bad for a boy born in the Holgate Nursing Home.

Barry married four times. He died of a heart attack in New York on January 30, 2011. He was survived by his fourth wife, Laurie, and four children. His career was celebrated by a benefit concert at the Royal Albert Hall on June 20, 2011, and his family established the John Barry scholarship for film composition at the Royal College of Music in his memory.

Stephen Lewis

For the story behind other York Civic Trust plaques, visit yorkcivictrust.co.uk