Barry Gray was born John Livesey Eccles on 18th July 1908. His father, John Haworth Eccles, was a stationary traveller for the Blackburn Paper Co. Ltd and lived with his wife Florence at 67 Azalea Road, Blackburn. Barry attended St Silas' Primary School in Revidge before his family moved to Blackpool.
Both his parents were musically talented and it wasn’t long before their influence rubbed off on their son. When he was old enough he went to study at the Royal Manchester College of Music where his first teacher remarked of his musical arranging and notational abilities that “This young lad takes to manuscript paper like a duck takes to water!” He later spent time at Blackburn Cathedral where he learned harmony and counterpoint before progressing to study musical composition with the famous Hungarian composer Matyas Seiber. He married his sweetheart, Ivy Joan Isobel Smith at St Michael with St John & Holy Trinity Church in Blackburn in the later part of 1929.
After graduating, his first professional job as a composer was with B. Feldman & Co. of London where he arranged scores for variety theatres. He also worked as a composer-arranger with Radio Normandy at their commercial radio station in Portland Place. The Second World War brought a temporary halt to his creative abilities whilst he served six years with the R.A.F. in Africa, India & Burma but when his service was done he returned to London and became a freelance composer and a lyricist for music publishers at the Denham Studios in London.
In 1947 he joined the Performing Rights Society under his real name but changed it by deed pole to John Livesey Barry Gray. During this time he worked for the BBC on the Terry-Thomas radio series “To Town With Terry” and as a musical assistant with such names as Eartha Kitt, Hoagy Carmichael & Vera Lynn.
In 1956 he became Musical Director at AP Films Ltd, later to become Century 21 Productions, met Gerry & Sylvia Anderson and over a glass of his favourite tipple, sweet sherry, began a long and successful relationship, 18 years in total, as he scored some of the most famous TV Themes in history including Supercar, Fireball XL5, Captain Scarlet, Joe 90, Space: 1999, UFO, Stingray and probably the most famous of all, Thunderbirds. Gerry Anderson describes Barry Gray as “a very sweet person, a marvellous guy, always full of fun”. Barry’s association with Gerry Anderson came about due to author Roberta Leigh, who had known Barry from his work with Vera Lynn and when Anderson was bringing Leigh’s character “Twizzle” to TV, she insisted that Barry be brought on board as musical director. Leigh then took Anderson to Barry’s home to discuss her musical ideas for the show and the two men hit it off immediately. The success of “The Adventures of Twizzle” led immediately to their next project “Torchy, the Battery Boy”, another Roberta Leigh creation, which included the voice of Kenneth Connor who went on to fame in the Carry On films.
In 1950 Barry set up his own recording studio in London which specialized in electronics and experimental effects. The studio was also used for composing music for commercials, the BBC and for Vera Lynn. After the completion of the two series, Barry worked on a special musical series with the BBC Orchestra, for which he created a character called Dumpy, who could go to any part of the world and describe it to the viewer as the orchestra played the traditional music of the region being described. It was during this project that Gerry Anderson asked him to write the script for a new children’s puppet TV series, a light-hearted Western with a touch of magic about it. Barry agreed and the script, entitled “Four Feather Falls” was eventually sold to Granada Television in 1958. Barry, obviously, provided the music and the songs were sung by Michael Holiday, a popular vocalist who tragically died just after completing the series in a horrific car crash. Barry continued to work with Gerry Anderson on TV Films, until 1959 when “Supercar” was born.
During this time Barry extended his North London recording studio and was becoming more and more interested in electronic music and began using the Ondes Martenot and the Theremin (still used nowadays in the theme tune to Midsomer Murders). Barry even went as far as studying with the inventor, Martenot, in Paris for a month. He used these instruments to great effect over the years in film scores for the films “Doctor Who and the Daleks”, “Island of Terror” & “Fahrenheit 451”.
In 1963, “Stingray” became the first Gerry Anderson puppet series to be filmed in colour and this allowed Barry to use a larger orchestra when recording, a 24-piece orchestra was used in the making of “Supercar” & “Fireball XL5” and now a 38-piece orchestra would be used for recording “Stingray” at Pye Studios. The closing titles of Stingray were accompanied by another Barry Gray balled “Aqua Marina”, performed by Gary Miller, best known for his 1956 hit “Robin Hood” backed up by the soprano Joan Brown. Barry was asked in an interview if we wrote specifically for children rather than adults, to which he replied “It was Gerry Anderson’s idea not to write “kiddie” music for the puppet shows and I should not let the fact that the show’s stars were puppets affect the music at all. I should write as one would do for a film, in the normal way, and this is what I always did. I never wrote down to children. I scored as I felt; I treated the puppets as real people and that is what we did throughout.”
The success of the Gerry Anderson shows led to the creation of the series that was destined to have Barry’s most famous theme – “Thunderbirds”. Using a 38-piece orchestra, Gerry Anderson had suggested that the theme for Thunderbirds had a military flavour as it was for a dramatic series with militaristic overtones. The theme Barry created was ideal and has since been used by military bands all over the world. The theme was also played when Concorde was wheeled out of its hangar for the first time at Toulouse, France. Gerry Anderson recalled the first time the theme was recorded, “I watched from the monitor room…I’ll never forget the incredible feeling I got when Barry conducted the first take…It sent shivers down my spine…I knew straight away that it was something special.” The presence of a large orchestra meant that the room became very hot and Barry always did the same thing to cool off, he would stop the session, put down his baton, take off his shirt and conduct the rest of the session in his vest! The conductor demanded nothing but perfection from his musicians as Gerry Anderson explains “I would be lost in admiration for his expertise. He would suddenly stop conducting and look at one of the musicians. “Second Oboe…you played an E flat instead of an E sharp.” Goodness knows how he heard it – it would sound OK to me. The musician would say “Sorry Barry” and they’d start again. Barry may have been small in stature but he commanded enormous respect from the musicians he worked with.” For the film “Thunderbirds Are Go!” in 1966, the first feature-length movie based on the series, a 70-piece orchestra was used as Anderson wanted a “big symphonic sound” and was recorded over three days at Anvil Studios near Denham. For the sequel “Thunderbird 6”, made in 1967, a 54-piece orchestra was used at Olympic Studios in Barnes, London. Although it became Barry’s most successful composition, it was not his favourite, those being for the film Doppleganger (aka Journey to the Far Side of the Sun) starring Patrick Wymark and the TV series “Secret Service” featuring Stanley Urwin and sung by The Mike Sammes Singers.
The late sixties also saw Barry create the unique theme to Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, a fanfare sequence using drumbeats which also signalled the beginning and end of commercial breaks, the Spectrum logo alternating with the first or final scene. Barry also wrote the lyrics to another version of the Captain Scarlet theme sung by The Spectrum, a band whose first single was heard by Gerry Anderson’s chauffeur, Len, when it was played on the radio by Tony Blackburn and he mentioned the coincidence of the band’s name to Gerry. He immediately put them under contract and they recorded the Captain Scarlet theme in July 1967. This and subsequent releases including cover versions of “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” and “Little Red Book” failed to chart in the UK but were a considerable success in Spain and West Germany. Captain Scarlet, voiced by Francis Matthews, was a tremendous success, arguably second only to Thunderbirds.
More classic compositions followed including Joe 90 and UFO, whose memorable theme was recorded in July 1969 by Harry Stoneham. The UFO’s unique sound was also created by Barry, the electronic Spinetta sound as the UFO’s travelled through the air.
Barry’s work did not begin and end with the Andersons though; he continued to compose independently but used a number of different pseudonyms including John Livesey, Gene Durant and Martin Jerbourg.
Barry moved to Guernsey in the Channel Islands in 1970 (his love for the Channel Islands was clear as one of his pseudonyms, Martin Jerbourg, was a character from John Nettles hit TV detective series Bergerac!) and settled in St Peter-in-the-Wood. A music studio he used in St Peter Port was formerly a German bunker and was fifteen feet underground and he also became the resident pianist at the Old Government House Hotel on the Island.
In 1974, Gray would create the theme for the new series “Space:1999” for Gerry Anderson but this time he would be working with Vic Elms, Sylvia Anderson’s brother-in-law (famous for being in the pop music group “Christie” who had a No.1 hit with “Yellow River”). Vic was credited as “music associate” and although Barry was unhappy with the arrangement, he went along with it and in the end Vic Elms’ contribution was minimal. Unfortunately Barry’s involvement with Space:1999 would only last for the first series as he was ceremoniously ousted along with other members of the cast and crew by the TV network who were unhappy with the first series. Fred Feinberger was brought in as producer and Derek Wadsworth was drafted in to replace Barry. It was his final contribution to the genre of TV/Film music.
Barry now devoted his time towards his hobbies, drawing, calligraphy and the writing and illustrating of books on his adopted home, Guernsey. In 1979 he was asked to arrange and guest conduct about ten minutes of his own work for the Annual Filmharmonic Concert of Film Music, the proceeds of which went towards the Cinema Benevolent Fund. Gray soon found himself conducting a 93-piece orchestra playing a specially arranged suite of his music from “Doppleganger” to “Thunderbirds”. The event was a major success and Barry was delighted to find autograph hunters waiting for him at the backstage door, wanting him to sign the old Century21 albums containing his TV themes. The concert organizer, Sidney Samuelson, requested that Barry compose the introductory stage show for the following year’s Film Performance. He was also asked to compose the Fanfare for the Royal Film Performance of 1980, which was performed by the Coldstream Guards Trumpeters.
1981 consisted of Barry re-arranging and re-dubbing his music for Robert Mandell of ITC New York which led to releasing 90 minute compilations of his work with Gerry Anderson, from “Stingray” through to “Space:1999”. He was also asked to compose a theme for the new real-life rescue operation called “International Rescue”, a volunteer organization involved in disaster rescue which was inspired by Thunderbirds and whose Honorary President was Gerry Anderson. Barry also attended the Space:1999 Alliance Conventions in Atlanta, Georgia and Columbus, Ohio. In 1982 he was the main guest at the Fanderson Convention in London, at which he played some of his famous TV themes.
Barry had agreed to return to active TV work by composing the music for a new Gerry Anderson created series called “Terrahawks” but died of heart disease at the Princess Elizabeth Hospital in Guernsey on 26th April 1984, aged 75. Gerry Anderson described Barry’s music as " like fine wine…it improves with age”. The ever-popular Thunderbirds theme was revived in 2004 when a live film version of Thunderbirds was made starring Bill Paxton & Ben Kingsley and directed by Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Jonathan Frakes.
In 2008, The Barry Gray Centenary Concert was held at the Royal Festival Hall, SouthBank Centre in London. The Philharmonica Orchestra played a selection of Barry’s famous themes including Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet, Joe 90, UFO and more It also celebrated the release of the original Thunderbirds TV series on Blue-Ray DVD. The concert was hosted by Brian Blessed and guest of honour was Gerry Anderson. A number of Barry Gray Centenary Pins were sold on the day to raise money for the Cinema & Television Benevolent Fund.
Barry Gray’s music has survived the test of time and anyone who listens to it now is immediately taken back to their childhood. His music has an affectionate place in all our childhoods and continues to entertain to this day.
Here is a selection of Barry Gray memorabilia...above is the Official Programme from the Barry Gray Centenary Concert, below is the sheet music for the theme to Thunderbirds…
…the soundtrack CD from the 1965 film “Doctor Who & The Daleks” starring Peter Cushing & Roy Castle which features effects using the Ondes Martenot by Barry Gray…
a CD by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Konstantin Pavlov, called "F.A.B : Music from the TV Shows by Barry Gray" which includes all the favourites, Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet, Stingray and more…
…the CD soundtrack from Joe 90…
An original vinyl mini-album “The Music of Barry Gray – Volume 2” released by the Fanderson fan club featuring a selection of his music.
The Original CD Soundtrack from the TV series “The Secret Service”.
Variations on Barry Gray”, a cassette which was given away as a Fanderson membership item. The tracks are performed by Francois Evans including Joe 90 & Thunderbirds.
“No Strings Attached”, a 10” vinyl album by The Barry Gray Orchestra, released in 1981, also the inspiration for the title of this article.
UFO, The 40th Anniversary Edition, Original Soundtrack CD double album, complete with a 24 page booklet with full details of each track and recording date.
“Stand By For Action – The Music of Barry Gray” a CD released in 2009 which includes previously unreleased tracks from “Four Feather Falls” and more.
Sheet music featuring "Shopping" a song from a collection recorded by Vera Lynn called "Vera Lynn's Songs For Children", written by Barry Gray and performed by his orchestra.
A vinyl LP featuring the music from "Space :1999", this was to be Barry's last contribution to the Film/TV music genre.
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