Monty Norman and the Greatest Theme Tune Ever Written
To say we have lost some British legends this year would be an understatement (RIP Maam). One of those titans, British composer, musician and singer, Monty Norman made an extraordinary contribution to movie music, and even if you do not recognise his name, you will know his most famous tune.
Born in 1928 to Jewish immigrant parents, Monty Noserovitch was a true Cockney, born and raised in the East End of London. Given his first guitar at sixteen (a 1930’s Gibson) he would be taught by fellow Londoner Bert Weedon whose best-selling guitar tutorials Play in a Day were a major influence on some of the greatest names in British music, such as Eric Clapton, Brian May, Paul McCartney and Mark Knopfler.
Apparently Weedon told the young Monty “…as a guitarist you’ll make a great singer!” and so began a vocal career with Jazz groups, Big Bands and some of the greatest names in comedy, including Benny Hill, The Goons, Tommy Cooper and Tony Hancock.
But it is as a composer and songwriter that we will all know his work. Success in the West End and on Broadway, saw Monty (now Monty Norman) working on a musical based on V.S. Naipaul’s novel A House for Mr Biswas. The project never saw the light of day, but it is notable for one of Monty’s compositions Bad Sign, Good Sign. Full of Indian intonations, beats and featuring a sitar, it is a far cry from the writer’s London roots. But, if you can, go listen to it. It may surprise you. The melody and timing is unmistakable. When the show was shelved, the song went in Monty’s bottom drawer. It would be two years before he took it out.
In the interim, his work on a musical about murderer Dr. Crippen impressed one of the show’s financial backers, an American called Albert Romolo Broccoli, better known as ‘Cubby’ Broccoli. When he and Canadian Harry Saltzman bought the rights to Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels, they would invite Monty to write the score for the first film Dr. No.
At the end of their first meeting, an assistant took Monty to one side “See if you can get a good theme for this, because I reckon we’ve got two films and a television series out of this.”
While in Jamaica with the filming team he wrote Underneath the Mango Tree for Ursula Andress to sing as she made her iconic beach entrance.
He was so impressed with Sean Connery’s voice that he offered him a role in a musical, but, Mango Tree wasn’t his greatest contribution to the film. The movie needed a distinctive musical theme and in a moment of inspiration Monty dug out Bad Sign, Good Sign from his bottom drawer, swapped the sitar for a guitar and created one of the most enduring themes in movie history, The James Bond Theme.
Sixty years later, it has featured in each of the twenty five James Bond films produced by Eon.
Beyond Bond, Monty continued a successful career in musicals, TV and film, writing tunes for stars such as Bob Hope, Cliff Richard, Count Basie, Shirley McClaine and even Moby. His last project was an animated film, Mississippi Big.
But on 11th July 2022, after a short illness, the Big Band Leader In The Sky put down his baton and Monty Norman passed at the age of ninety four. He left behind a incredible musical legacy, including, perhaps the greatest movie theme tune ever written.
You can read more about Monty Norman's life and work on his official website.
In tribute, for those of you who use Spotify, here is our James Bond playlist, all of the James Bond theme songs, in order.