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Ron Grainer

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Ron Grainer

Biography

Ronald Erle "Ron" Grainer (11 August 1922, Atherton, Queensland, Australia – 21 February 1981, Cuckfield, Sussex, England) was an Australian composer who worked for most of his professional career in the United Kingdom.

Ron Grainer was the first child of Margaret Clark, an amateur pianist, and Ronald Albert Grainer, a storekeeper and postmaster. For the first eight years of Ron's life the Grainer family lived in Mt Mulligan, a small town built around the extraction of coal. Because of Mt Mulligan's physical isolation, encouraging a sense of community was vital. This was achieved by regularly holding dance and social functions. These public entertainments became very important for bolstering local morale especially after a massive explosion on 19 September 1921 killed 75 resident mine workers one third of Mt Mulligan's adult population.

Concerts in the years following the disaster included performances by a very young Ron Erle Grainer, taught piano playing from the age of four by his mother and encouraged to learn the violin by an elderly Welsh miner. As Grainer's music skills developed, he started demonstrating an ability to reconstruct tunes he had heard at school or on gramophone records. Mary Wardle, a classical musician, remembers Grainer performing on keyboard instruments “when he could barely reach the pedals.”

At the age of nine, as part of the Aloomba school team, Grainer won second prize for solo violin at the inaugural Cairns and District School Eisteddfod. This is the first newspaper mention of him giving a music performance in public. In early 1933, Grainer's family moved to Cairns where he commenced a serious study of music theory and interpretation. His family relocated south to Brisbane in 1937 where Grainer completed his secondary school education at St Joseph's College, Nudgee, matriculating in 1938. He enrolled at the University of Queensland in 1939 to study civil engineering and music, a course which included harmony, counterpoint and composition. Grainer gained his Associate of Trinity College London Diploma (ATCL) on piano.

After the outbreak of World War II, Grainer joined the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) in December 1940. Stationed in Townsend, he contributed to barracks recreation activities by scoring and organising numerous servicemen shows.

Grainer received his teaching and performing diploma for pianoforte in December 1949. During 1950 and 1951 he began appearing in a series of solo artist radio shows for the Australian Broadcasting Commission. In August 1951 a presentation of Delius, Faure and Milhaud compositions by Grainer on piano and Don Scott on violin was ridiculed in a newspaper review for the duo's "uncompromising disregard of mob appeal", "lack of practical concert sense" and "unrelievedly pastel colouring" set list. By the mid-1950s Grainer had abandoned his classical repertoire and live concert work with such a determined change of attitude that he claimed in a 1964 magazine interview that he had "always loathed performing."

In 1952 Grainer left Australia for London with his wife Margot and 10-year-old stepdaughter Rel. He managed to find a three-month engagement playing piano in a nightclub along with other occasional jobs, the worst of which became a twelve-month stint with a comedy act called "The Allen Brothers and June." To increase his public profile Grainer had two attempts at song contests: England's Made of Us (1956), an entry with lyricist David Dearlove for the First British Festival of Popular Song, which received the score of no points from the judges, and the following year, Don't Cry Little Doll (1957) (also written with David Dearlove), which reached fourth place in the British Eurovision entry decider heats.

Grainer's most dramatic pre-success music involvement was with Before The Sun Goes Down, a TV play which caused audience panic and questions to be raised in the British Parliament when it was shown on 20 February 1959. Taking inspiration from Orson Welles' 1938 radio drama of The War of the Worlds, the production used a similar format in which a regular program broadcast was interrupted by a fake public service announcement. In this instance it was about a mysterious and "terrifying" satellite seen hovering over the city of London.

In 1960 Grainer achieved public recognition with his theme and incidental music for the TV series Maigret. When Maigret was given the Ivor Norvello “Outstanding Composition for Film, TV or Radio” award in 1961, commissions from a wide range of genres poured in: Goon Show silliness, one-off pilots, documentaries, teen flicks, ballet (The Kings Breakfast, 1963), science fiction (Doctor Who, 1963), psycho killers, children's adventure stories, patriotic biography, big-budget musicals (Robert and Elizabeth, 1964), and acclaimed dramas (To Sir, with Love 1967). Grainer also worked with the instrumental group The Eagles who recorded a number of his themes.

In September 1968, tired of London traffic jams and worried about his intensifying eyesight problems, Grainer moved permanently to his former retreat property in southern Portugal. He and Jenny started a farm growing organic fruit and vegetables, undertaking the planting and maintaining of 1,000 peach trees.nFrom 1969 to 1975, Grainer composed themes and soundtracks for an average of around one TV series and one film each year.

In April 1974 the Carnation Revolution had prompted Grainer and his family to leave Portugal and return to England until the political climate cleared. Over the next five years Grainer had a second round of creativity, achieving respect with the Emmy and Bafta award winning miniseries Edward & Mrs Simpson and the well-received scores for Tales of the Unexpected (1979) and Rebecca (1979). Skin [1980], an episode of Tales of the Unexpected with the theme of exploitation of the socially vulnerable and a poignant Grainer soundtrack, won the 1980 Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Television Episode.

Grainer is mostly remembered today for his film and television music, especially the theme music for Doctor Who.


Works for Winds


References