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date: 20 February 2020

Barry, John [Prendergast, John Barry]free

(b York, England, 3 Nov 1933; d Oyster Bay, NY, 30 Jan 2011). English composer.
  • Jon Burlingame

As a boy he worked at his father's theater chain in the north of England and listened to such established Hollywood composers as Steiner, Korngold, and Waxman. He contemplated a career as a film composer and left school to study music with Francis Jackson, then the Master of Music at York Minster. During his national service (1952–5) he studied jazz arranging and orchestration by mail with Stan Kenton's famous arranger William Russo.

In 1957 he formed the John Barry Seven, a jazz-rock group, and was music director for the singer Adam Faith on several hit songs, including “What do you Want” (1959, Parlophone). The Seven's recording “Hit and Miss” (1960, EMI) was adopted as the theme for the BBC's popular television show Juke Box Jury. Around this time Barry wrote, performed, and recorded pop music, appearing with his group on such influential shows as Six-Five Special and Drumbeat. He later worked as a music director for EMI and Ember Records.

Following his first film score, for Beat Girl (1960, with Faith), Barry gained fame for his fusion of jazz, pop, and orchestral sounds in the James Bond films, beginning with his arrangement of Monty Norman's James Bond Theme for Dr. No (1962) and concluding with his music for The Living Daylights (1987). His soundtrack for the 007 film Goldfinger (1964) displaced the Beatles at the top of the American charts; his title songs for Thunderball (1965), You Only Live Twice (1967), Octopussy (1983), and A View to a Kill (1985) also charted.

While the Bond films attracted most of the attention, Barry also scored a wide variety of other British films including Zulu (1964); six Bryan Forbes films including King Rat (1965), The Whisperers (1967), and Deadfall (1968), in which Barry appears conducting the London PO performing his single-movement guitar concerto; the cimbalom-flavored The Ipcress File and the hip The Knack … and how to get it (both 1965); and the African lion adventure Born Free (1966), which won Oscars for his score and title song. He added choir to his lavish orchestral scores for the period films The Lion in Winter (1968, another Oscar winner), The Last Valley (1971), and Mary, Queen of Scots (1971).

Barry gradually developed a more lush, romantic style that suited such movies as the romantic fantasy Somewhere in Time (1980), Out of Africa (1985), and the Western Dances with Wolves (1990), the last two of which won him further Academy Awards. He revisited his earlier, jazzy style in the concept album Americans (1976) and in his scores for Body Heat (1981), The Cotton Club (1984), and Playing by Heart (1998).

Barry achieved sporadic success with stage musicals. He had West End hits with Passion Flower Hotel (1965) and Billy (1974, starring Michael Crawford) and Broadway failures with Lolita, My Love (1971, with lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner) and The Little Prince and the Aviator (1981), both of which closed during previews. Brighton Rock (2004, based on the Graham Greene novel) played briefly in London. For Billy, The Little Prince, and Brighton Rock, Barry collaborated with the lyricist Don Black, with whom he had worked on songs from the mid-1960s.

Barry's television themes also proved popular, notably those for The Persuaders! (1971), The Adventurer (1972), and Orson Welles’ Great Mysteries (1973). He was profiled on American television in Great Performances (1993) and on the British program Omnibus (2000). He moved to America in 1975 and, late in his career, turned his attention to such reflective orchestral concept albums as The Beyondness of Things and Eternal Echoes. He was named an Officer of the British Empire in 1999, received an honorary doctorate from the University of York in 2001, and became the first composer to receive the British Academy of Film and Television Arts Fellowship in 2008.


Film scores

Beat Girl, 1960

Never Let Go, 1960

Mix me a Person, 1962

The Amorous Prawn, 1962

From Russia with Love, 1963

Goldfinger, 1964

Man in the Middle, 1964

Séance on a Wet Afternoon, 1964

They all Died Laughing, 1964

Zulu, 1964

Four in the Morning, 1965

The Ipcress File, 1965

King Rat, 1965

The Knack. . . and how to get it, 1965

Mister Moses, 1965

The Party's Over, 1965

Thunderball, 1965

Born Free, 1966

The Chase, 1966

The Quiller Memorandum, 1966

The Wrong Box, 1966

Dutchman, 1967

The Whisperers, 1967

You Only Live Twice, 1967

Boom!, 1968

Deadfall, 1968

The Lion in Winter, 1968

Petulia, 1968

The Appointment, 1969

Midnight Cowboy, 1969 On her Majesty's Secret Service, 1969

Monte Walsh, 1970

Diamonds are Forever, 1971

The Last Valley, 1971

Mary, Queen of Scots, 1971

Murphy's War, 1971

They might be Giants, 1971

Walkabout, 1971

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, 1972

Follow me, 1972

A Doll's House, 1973

The Dove, 1974

The Man with the Golden Gun, 1974

The Tamarind Seed, 1974

The Day of the Locust, 1975

King Kong, 1976

Robin and Marian, 1976

The Deep, 1977

First Love, 1977

The White Buffalo, 1977

The Betsy, 1978

Game of Death, 1978

Moonraker, 1979

The Black Hole, 1979

Hanover Street, 1979

Starcrash, 1979

Inside Moves, 1980

Night Games, 1980

Raise the Titanic!, 1980

Somewhere in Time, 1980

Touched by Love, 1980

Body Heat, 1981

The Legend of the Lone Ranger, 1981

Frances, 1982

Hammett, 1982

Murder by Phone, 1982

The Golden Seal, 1983

High Road to China, 1983

Octopussy, 1983

The Cotton Club, 1984

Mike's Murder, 1984

Until September, 1984

Jagged Edge, 1985

Out of Africa, 1985

A View to a Kill, 1985

The Golden Child, 1986

Howard the Duck, 1986

A Killing Affair, 1986

Peggy Sue got Married, 1986

Hearts of Fire, 1987

The Living Daylights, 1987

Masquerade, 1988

Dances with Wolves, 1990

Chaplin, 1992

Indecent Proposal, 1993

My Life, 1993

Ruby Cairo, 1993

The Specialist, 1994

Across the Sea of Time, 1995

Cry the Beloved Country, 1995

The Scarlet Letter, 1995

Swept from the Sea, 1997

Mercury Rising, 1998

Playing by Heart, 1998

Enigma, 2001

Television scores (selected)

Elizabeth Taylor in London, 1963

Sophia Loren in Rome, 1964

The Glass Menagerie, 1973

Love among the Ruins, 1975

Eleanor and Franklin, 1976

Eleanor and Franklin: the White House Years, 1977

The Gathering, 1977

The War between the Tates, 1977

Young Joe: the Forgotten Kennedy, 1977

Willa, 1979

The Corn is Green, 1979

Svengali, 1983


Americans, 1976

The Beyondness of Things, 1999

Eternal Echoes, 2001


  • R.S. Brown: Overtones and Undertones: Reading Film Music (Los Angeles, 1994)
  • E. Fiegel: John Barry: a Sixties Theme, from James Bond to Midnight Cowboy (London, 1998)
  • B. Stanley: “Some Like it Cool: a Tale of Sex, Spies, Success and Cimbalons,” Mojo (2001), Dec, 67–74
  • G. Leonard, P. Walker, and G. Bramley: John Barry: the Man with the Midas Touch (Bristol, 2008)
  • J. Burlingame: “Billion Dollar Composer: John Barry,” Daily Variety (3 Nov 2008), A1–A6
  • B. Handy: “The Man who Knew the Score,” Vanity Fair〉 (2009)