The Composers of DOCTOR WHO - Sir Richard Rodney Bennett

Christopher Morley revisits the work of Doctor Who composer Sir Richard Rodney Bennett.

Next up in our pantheon of musical greats to have lent their talents to Doctor Who is the late Sir Richard Rodney Bennett. Among his rich & varied catalogue of work for television, film, opera, choral & vocal performance is a credit as composer for The Aztecs - born in Kent in 1936, he was raised in Devon during the Second World War.

Perhaps it was inevitable that he would choose music as a career, his pianist mother Joan having studied with the great classical composer Gustav Holst & indeed been a part of the public première of his masterwork The Planets! Unsurprisingly old Gustav was one of young Bennett's early musical heroes, alongside Maurice Ravel & Claude Debussy. Creativity clearly ran in the family- his father Rodney turning his hand to both poetry & writing for children........

At the time of working on the score for The Aztecs, he had returned to the Royal Academy of Music as a lecturer ( serving from 1963-65 having been a student there himself as a younger man after completing his studies at Leighton Park, a Quaker school in Reading). Five years later he would take up a similar post in America at the Peabody Institute of Baltimore, staying until 1971.

A CBE would find its way to him by 1977- just reward for such a versatile man of music, you might think. With 50 film & television scores & well over 250 concert works ranging from jazz to classical & beyond recorded prior to his death on Christmas Eve 2012, Bennett certainly proved himself prolific! Everything from 1957's Pickup Alley to 2000's BBC adaptation of Gormenghast bears his stamp, & a 1971 big-screen version of Nicholas & Alexandria (1971). The tale of Russia's last Tsar saw him providing the soundtrack to performances by Michael Jayston as Nicholas himself ( who would go on to portray the Valeyard in Trial Of A Time Lord) & Tom Baker as Grigori Rasputin aka the ' Mad Monk ( but was/is probably better known as the Fourth Doctor).

His work on 1974's Murder On The Orient Express, adapted from the 1934 Agatha Christie novel by director Sidney Lumet ( see here for a full orchestra performance from the Proms) is most likely another of the fondest-remembered slices of his rich & varied output. Of course, the author herself would encounter the Tenth Doctor & the Vespiform in The Unicorn & The Wasp too.

Both of those mentioned above won him his first & third nominations for the Academy Award for Best Original Dramatic Score. So, you may well ask, what was the second? In between them nestles his music for John Schlesinger's adaptation of Thomas Hardy's Far From The Madding Crowd ( 1967). He also dabbled as a jazz pianist- you can hear its influence in his score for 1963's Billy Liar...

Why not also take a listen to his Jazz Calendar too? In his jazzman guise he worked with singers of the calibre of Cleo Laine, & said later of his eclectic range that it was 'in different rooms, albeit in the same house'. Not at all surprising when you look even further back & discover the range of his musical teachers/contemporaries! He'd spent two years- 1957-9- in Paris studying under Pierre Boulez after his student days at the Royal Academy of Music had finished- his classmates included Howard Ferguson, Lennox Berkeley & Cornelius Cardew. He'd go on to translate his old tutor Boulez's book On Music Today into English in the early Seventies- you can read a full appreciation by modern-day composer Tom Service here.

And of course we can't go without mentioning his 1998 knighthood for services to music. Our dear old Queen is said to be a bit of a Doctor Who fangirl herself- having watched from the beginning, she's said to have been disappointed by Christopher Eccleston's decision to quit after just one series of the revived show- though she did apparently praise his performances as the Ninth Doctor. Might explain this, too...

What she's made of proceedings in the post-Nine years sadly goes unrecorded, but if she wants it there's always the offer of a staff post here at Warped Factor to indulge her nerdy side. The love of Who has also made its way down the generations to Prince Charles, so if he fancies a go as well ( when he's not doing his duties to mum & country or talking to plants) he's also more than welcome! As long as both don't mind making the odd cup of tea or lunch-hour food run they're both free to make themselves at home.

Hear, that Liz? A nice cushy reviewing post & all the DVDs you can manage ( rumour has it she takes them to Balmoral for her annual Scottish holiday). As yet she's not attempted to use royal privilege to force a cameo appearance though- Buckingham Palace sources tell us she's waiting for Peter Capaldi to vacate the TARDIS before putting her name forward as the Thirteenth Doctor...does she know The Wire had dastardly plans foiled during her coronation?

And looking further back, had she any idea that she'd not only later knight the man who composed the incidental music for The Aztecs, but also marry a man who'd do a passable First Doctor impersonation in later life in the form of Prince Philip?

Bennett, though, wasn't even resident on this sceptred isle when awarded his big honour- he'd moved full-time to New York in 1979 & would stay on in the Big Apple until his death. Let's now finish with a few of his other works- here's the choral Out Of Your Sleep for starters.

Add in his Guitar Sonata, played by the great classical guitarist Julian Bream for a decent show of his quite astonishing range!

A full biography, Richard Rodney Bennett: The Complete Musician, by Anthony Meredith & Paul Harris, was published in 2010.
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