From Empire magazine (May 1994)
I was recently reading an article about the James Bond films and it mentioned the composer, Monty Norman, who, with John Barry, was responsible for the theme music that begins every film. I know John Barry went on to provide music for many other films, but whatever happened to Monty Norman?
"I-I was born un-der a lu-u-ck-y st-ar..." croons Monty Norman, putting an unlikely lyric to the tune that became synonymous the world over with Secret Agent 007. "At least I think it went like that," he laughs. "I'd have to look it up to check."
Indeed he would, since the melody that was to become the James Bond Theme started life as a number in the musical A House for Mr. Biswas which Norman abandoned 2 years earlier when Bond was but a mere embryonic idea in Cubby Broccoli's ample ambitions. It was that theme, however, when arranged by John Barry, that sold more than 25 million records and surely made Norman enough money to set him up for life.
"I don't think like that," he retorts. "I never think like that. I'm too busy thinking about the next big thing."
Monty Norman began his career as a singer with British dance bands in the late 1950s and early 1960s, but switched to composing after the success of his gritty rock 'n' roll musical Express Bongo -- destined to become Cliff Richard's first major film. After a string of hit musicals including Irma LaDouce, Norman was approached by Broccoli to do the music for what was to be the first James Bond film, Dr. No.
"I admit I didn't know much about the novels, but when he said there's a trip to Jamaica involved, I thought, well, what's to lose?"
Ah, Jamaica. The very place, it has been erroneously suggested and expensively suggested, that Norman first heard the Bond theme being played by street musicians. Erroneously, because it isn't true that he stole the tune from unknown buskers, and expensively, because Monty Norman tends to sue anyone who suggests otherwise.
"I cannot for the life of me understand how that rumous got about," he says. "I've got absolute proof and corroborative evidence that I wrote it. But if you have something successful, then somebody's going to come out of the woodwork and say, 'I did it'"
Even he, though, is astonished at how big a success Bond became. "Nobody envisaged it was going to have the impact or success it had," he says wistfully.
Norman now spends his time between his home in Somerset and his flat in London. Currently working on a revival of Irma LaDouce and a proposed World War II mini-series, he has more or less turned his back on the movies.
"Theatre has always been my first love. It's obviously never as lucrative as films but I just adore it...."
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