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Radio: Barry Didcock on Rejection Notes - the movie scores that never were

Composers are often losers in battles over film scores

Authors, we know, have a torrid time when they turn scriptwriter and dive into the shark-infested waters of the film world where, as well as hearing their words mangled by actors, they often find they've been rewritten by other hands at the request of producers who want more oomph or pizzazz or (most likely of all) sex scenes.

But as broadcaster and music critic Christopher Cook explained in Rejection Notes: The Movie Scores That Never Were (BBC Radio 4, Tuesday, 11.30am), the same thing can happen to composers - even venerable ones with a Sir in front of their name, such as Sir William Walton.

Walton's score for Guy Hamilton's 1969 film The Battle Of Britain was conducted by Malcolm Arnold, no less, but the suits at United Artists in New York didn't like it. Why? Because they didn't think they could sell it as a long-playing record. Ron Goodwin, who had scored Where Eagles Dare and 633 Squadron, was hired instead. He was considered more hummable. Even Edward Heath got involved in the resulting stushie.

Walton had the last laugh in 2001 - sort of, anyway: he was long dead by then - when the film was re-released with his original score on it. And much better it was too, said Cook.

As the story of betrayal and misfortune unspooled, Cook canvassed the opinions of academics and film editors, whose use of non-score music on rough edits is notorious for influencing directors and producers (Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey is the most famous example and resulted in Alex North's commissioned score being jettisoned for music by Strauss and Ligeti).

Cook also spoke to composer Howard Blake, best known for The Snowman. "They do horrible things to it," said Blake ("they" being the producers and "it" being the score), "and you've got to put up with it because you're not in charge."

As well as seeing how his mentor, Bernard Hermann, was ruthlessly dumped by longtime collaborator Alfred Hitchcock on Torn Curtain, Blake once found himself filling the Ron Goodwin role in another film story when he was drafted in to write the score for Flash Gordon. He had 10 days to do it, he said, and didn't sleep for the last four.

One for fans of movie trivia only, perhaps, but yet another demonstration of the truth of screenwriter William Goldman's famous maxim about the film industry: "Nobody knows anything."

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