British composer Laurie Johnson, whose theme for ‘The Avengers’ was one of the most famous spy show hallmarks of the 1960s, has died, Variety reported. He died in his sleep on Tuesday in North London, according to a family statement. He was 96.
Johnson was one of the last prominent English film composers active in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. He scored ‘Dr. Strangelove’ for Stanley Kubrick, as well as ‘Tiger Bay’ and the sci-fi and fantasy films ‘First Men in the Moon and ‘Captain Kronos, Vampire Hunter’.
But it was his music for ‘The Avengers,’ the cheerful and elegant teaming of troubleshooters John Steed and Emma Peel, winningly performed by Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg, that brought him star status. Johnson joined the British-made series for its fourth season, which began airing in America in 1966.
He remained with the show after Rigg’s departure and the introduction of Linda Thorson as Tara King in the sixth season. Johnson scored almost every episode, describing it as an unheard-of extravagance.’ He said, “There could be up to 30 minutes of music to be recorded and synchronised each week. I must have composed over 50 hours of music during the series.”
When the same production team released ‘The New Avengers’ in 1976, with the returning Macnee teaming up with Gareth Hunt and Joanna Lumley for new adventures, Johnson used the opening bars of the original ‘Avengers’ theme but then transitioned into a whole new piece for the series. Much of Johnson’s best-remembered music, in addition to ‘The Avengers,’ was for British television.
His recording of the theme for ‘Top Secret’ made the U.K. record charts in 1961. He also scored the Shirley MacLaine series ‘Shirley’s World’ and the popular crime drama ‘The Professionals’.
Laurie Johnson was born on February 7, 1927, in Hampstead, England. He attended the Royal College of Music and served four years in the Coldstream Guards. A noted big-band arranger, he became involved in the British music industry in the 1950s and contributed significant songs to the KPM music collection (some of which might be heard decades later in the cartoons `Ren and Stimpy` and `SpongeBob SquarePants`).
The family statement read, “Laurie’s music touched the lives of millions around the world. Throughout his illustrious career, he composed numerous iconic scores, themes and soundtracks that graced our lives across film, TV, theatre and radio.”
It added, “In this time of mourning, we draw strength from the beautiful memories we shared with him. We remember Laurie as an extraordinary individual who embraced life with passion and brought joy to so many. His kindness, compassion and infectious sense of fun and laughter will be profoundly missed by all that knew him.”
He is survived by his wife Dot, a daughter, son-in-law and grandson.
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