Obituary: Monty Norman, composer of the instantly recognisable James Bond theme tune

Monty Norman, who has died aged 94, was the composer of the James Bond theme; it was originally written for Dr No, the first film in the movie series based on Ian Fleming’s books, but Norman had to fight through the courts to uphold his ownership of the music.

e had already worked on five stage musicals when Cubby Broccoli invited him to join the Bond team. Broccoli had been one of the fbackers of Belle, a show by Norman that had not fared well. But Broccoli had been impressed by the music and he and Harry Saltzman, the producer, invited him for a chat at their Mayfair office.

“He said they had just acquired the rights to Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels and were going to turn them into films,” Norman recalled. “The first one was going to be Dr No, and would I like to do the score?”

Norman was reluctant at first because he was working on two other stage shows, but he was persuaded when Broccoli offered him and his family a three-week visit to Jamaica, all expenses paid, during filming.  

What had started out as “a little Indian-type song”, as Norman had called it, evolved into the famous tune. “From the moment I did that I knew I had the James Bond theme,” he said. “I wanted the character, the mystery, the atmosphere, and it was all there.” 

But things began to turn sour when Melody Maker suggested Norman had bought the James Bond theme from a Jamaican musician for $100. “I was told this was libel and I should do something about it,” he said. To confuse matters, the producers, who by some accounts were not happy with Norman’s orchestrations, engaged John Barry to rearrange the score. Over the years, Barry, who wrote music for the subsequent Bond films, became increasingly associated with the famous theme to the point that Norman’s role was being forgotten.

In 2001, The Sunday Times published an article under the headline “Theme tune wrangle as 007 shaken and stirred”, which alleged Norman did not write the theme. He sued for libel, won the case and was awarded damages of £30,000 (€35,380) plus costs in excess of £500,000.  

Born Monty Noserovitch in Stepney, east London, on April 4, 1928, he was the only child of Abraham, a cabinet maker who had fled Latvia as a child, and his wife, Annie. He recalled his parents moving out of his grandparents’ home and into their own rented rooms, where the landlady’s son let him play his guitar. “I remember the thrill,” he said of the first time he held the instrument.

The family moved to St Alban’s, outside London, where he joined the army cadets. “We used to put on concerts and I suddenly realised I had a voice,” he said. Soon he was having guitar lessons with Bert Weedon, who became a star in the 1950s and 1960s, and making radio shows and before long was invited to join Cyril Stapleton’s band as a singer.

He appeared at the London Palladium with the Ted Heath Orchestra, took part in a series of variety shows with Benny Hill and performed with Tony Hancock and Tommy Cooper. During the 1950s his interest was turning to writing songs. He wrote ‘False Hearted Lover’, and when it became a hit he gave up singing entirely.  

Irma La Douce, the first West End musical he worked on, was a triumph, and received seven Tony award nominations. It was followed by Expresso Bongo, which led to the 1959 film starring Cliff Richard.  

In 1989, the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors awarded Norman its gold badge of merit; he also received a special Ivor Novello award in recognition of his work on the Bond theme.

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In the late 1950s, Norman married Diana Coupland, the singer and actress who starred in the 1970s sitcom Bless This House; they had a daughter. That was dissolved in 1980 and he went on to marry Rina Caesari.

Telegraph Media Group Limited [2022]

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