Monty Norman, the British composer who wrote the propulsive theme for the James Bond films, died Monday (July 11) after a short illness, according to a post on his official website. He was 94.

Producer Cubby Broccoli, who had worked with Norman by backing the stage musical Belle, about murderer Hawley Crippen, asked the composer to come up with the score for the first Bond film, Dr. No (1962), after he and Harry Saltzman had acquired the rights to Ian Fleming’s spy.

The deal was sealed when the producers offered to fly Norman and his then-wife, actress-singer Diana Coupland, to Jamaica, where the movie was being filmed, all expenses paid. “Well, that was the clincher for me!” Norman said in a story posted on his website. “I thought, even if Dr. No turns out to be a stinker, at least we’d have sun, sea and sand to show for it!”

Norman drew on a piece he had written for a proposed musical adaptation of V.S. Naipaul’s A House for Mr. Biswas, shifting the key riff from sitar to electric guitar. The result has been used in all 25 Bond thrillers.

Burt Rhodes served as the original orchestrator of the Dr. No. score before composer John Barry was hired to rearrange the theme. Years later, Norman went to court to assert his authorship, suing the Sunday Times newspaper for libel over a 1997 article asserting the theme was composed by Barry. He won in 2001 and was awarded 30,000 pounds in damages.

His music for the first film also includes the song “Underneath the Mango Tree,” which he taught to Sean Connery and Ursula Andress, and a theme that accompanies the opening scene with the three blind assassins.

Later, Broccoli and Saltzman hired Norman to score the Bob Hope comedy Call Me Bwana (1963).

“By the end of the film, I still didn’t have a contract from Harry, who was the film’s main producer,” Norman recalled. “I said, ‘Look Harry, I’ve done all the work. Bob and everyone is pleased with it. Isn’t it time we talked money?’ And in a line as good as any Sam Goldwyn ever uttered, he said, ‘Monty, if you wanna talk money, we can’t do business!’ In the end I got my Bob Hope contract, but I didn’t get any Bond films after that!”

Born Monty Noserovitch on April 4, 1928, in the East End of London, Norman got his first guitar, a 1930s Gibson, when he was 16. He performed with big bands and in a variety double act with comedian Benny Hill before writing songs for British rockers Cliff Richard and Tommy Steele.

From 1958-60, he worked on such stage musicals as Irma La Douce, which ran for 5 1/2 years in the West End and 18 months on Broadway before becoming the 1963 Billy Wilder film starring Shirley MacLaine; Expresso Bongo, made into a 1959 movie starring Laurence Harvey; Make Me an Offer; and The Art of Living.

Norman later was honored at the 1979 Olivier Awards for his work on Songbook.

This article was originally published by The Hollywood Reporter.




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