Born: June 18, 1925; Died: March 20, 2011.

Johnny Pearson, who has died at the age of 85 after a short illness, was one of the best loved, most respected and hardest working composer-pianist-arrangers in the music business.

As a leading international composer of TV themes his work included News at Ten, 3,2,1, Owen MD, All Creatures Great and Small, General Hospital, Triangle, Mary, Mungo and Midge, Love Story, America’s Monday Night Football, Australian drama Division 4 and STV’s Ways and Means as well as station themes for ATV and Grampian. As musical director of the BBC’s Top of the Pops for 15 years he conducted the TOTP Orchestra. He also released over 60 records, co-owning two of London’s biggest recording studios.

Born in Plaistow, London, he began playing at the age of seven. A scholarship to the London Academy of Music at the age of 10 enabled him to be a pupil of the great concert pianist Soloman for four years. He played in the Royal Artillery band during the war and on demob joined the Malcolm Mitchell Trio, where he stayed for six years until the trio disbanded.

Much radio work followed and he was invited to be the pianist for Peter Yorke’s broadcasting orchestra. Soon the BBC gave him his own orchestra to accompany singer Michael Holliday, and then for his own Light Programme series Tune In For Johnny. This led to his first single, Waterfall, composed by monocled comedian Fred Emney, and believed to have been produced for Parlophone by George Martin.

His first album Piano Sweet, Piano Wild was for Oriole in 1962 produced by John Schroeder.

In 1964 George Martin brought Pearson to Abbey Road studios to arrange and conduct Cilla Black’s first number one, Anyone Who Had a Heart. He arranged You’re My World and other tracks for Cilla’s albums before a call from John Schroder brought him into Sounds Orchestral. He was then at Piccadilly Records and staffer Tony Reeves had drawn his attention to Vince Guaraldi’s jazz record Cast Your Fate To The Wind. Schroeder decided to do a cover version but needed a pianist. He was reminded of Pearson’s talent while listening to his show on Radio Luxembourg and hired him for a session fee of £8 to complete the arrangement and play piano on the single.

The record charted at number five – partly thanks to its use in a BBC trailer – and was a worldwide hit, more successful in the US than the original. The two Johns went on to make 16 singles and 17 albums together as Sounds Orchestral, an association that lasted for 27 years. After the first single, the orchestra was always credited as Sounds Orchestral, featuring Pearson – piano. In 1972, Larry Page signed him to his Penny Farthing label and he made 11 albums and eight singles with Adrian Kerridge, who had also sound engineered all of Pearson’s KPM recordings.

A timely appearance on Top of the Pops with Sounds Orchestral led to Pearson being asked to form and manage the Top of the Pops Orchestra, at a time when the Musicians’ Union had banned miming from the BBC programme. He was also in demand as a composer of TV and increasing success in this field led to him writing for a number of background music libraries. His closest association was with KPM Music who commissioned him to write a prodigious quantity of music over a period of 38 years.

When ITN launched their half-hour evening news programme, News at Ten, a fragment of the suite Twentieth Century Portrait that Pearson had penned for KPM was used as its theme; today the motif is used for all ITN news programmes.

In 1971, BBC TV producer Bill Sellars was given a new drama serial, Owen MD. Sellars chose a piece of Pearson’s library music but instead of playing it at 33rpm speeded it up to 45. Sleepy Shores reached number eight in the UK charts, and Sellers picked another of Pearson’s KPM pieces for All Creatures Great and Small.

After working with Pearson in London on the Carpenters BBC TV special, Richard Carpenter heard Pearson’s piece Autumn Reverie on a US TV commercial and asked if he could record it. Pearson agreed to it being renamed Heather to give The Carpenters share of the royalties.

Pearson’s enthusiasm for music knew no bounds. He frequently rang friends and after the briefest of exchanges would dump the handset in the well of his rare and beautiful Steinway and proceed to give an impromptu recital of his latest ideas down the line.

His love of the classics always came to the fore; he played mostly classical music at home, and in his later years gave recitals. Right up until his death, he played for hours every day at the elegant house in Addington Hills near Croydon that he shared with his wife Alex.

Johnny Pearson was, simply, a generous and gentle genius.