James Bond Theme Composer, Monty Norman, Dead at 94
Monty Norman, the composer responsible for the iconic theme of the James Bond film franchise, died Monday, July 11. He was 94.
Norman’s family confirmed his death to the BBC, while a note on his website said that he died “after a short illness.” No other details were given.
Though most famous for composing the Bond theme, Norman enjoyed a lengthy, multi-faceted career in music. Born in London in 1928, he began playing guitar at 16 and even studied with Bert Weedon, whose popular tutorials on the instrument were used by everyone from Paul McCartney to Brian May. As Norman’s bio on his website notes, it was Weedon who pointed a young Norman towards singing with the slightly backhanded compliment, “Monty, as a guitarist, you’ll make a great singer.”
In the 1950s, Norman launched his career in music, singing with various jazz bands and appearing on popular variety shows (on both radio and TV) alongside comedians like Benny Hill and Peter Sellers. While Norman enjoyed plenty of success as a singer, the popularity of his solo song, “False Hearted Lover,” convinced him to pivot to composing as the Fifties drew to a close. His composing career began in earnest with a string of West End musicals, some of which — including Irma La Douce and Expresso Bongo — were major hits.
It was one of Norman’s least successful shows, Belle (about the infamous murderer Dr. Crippin), however, that linked the composer with Albert “Cubby” Broccoli, who’d recently partnered with Harry Saltzman to buy the film rights to Ian Flemming’s James Bond novels. Broccoli tapped Norman to compose the score for the franchise’s first film, Dr. No.
To compose the Bond theme, Norman tinkered with a previous composition, “Good Sign, Bad Sign,” which he’d written for a musical adaptation of V.S. Naipul’s A House for Mr. Biswas. With just the tune’s main guitar riff, Norman captured everything about Bond, as he told his website: “His sexiness, his mystery, his ruthlessness — it’s all there in a few notes.”
While Norman composed the Bond theme, it was John Barry who arranged the jazzy, orchestral version that would play in Dr. No and subsequent Bond flicks. As a result, Barry was often wrongly credited with crafting the theme, and in the early 2000s, Norman even successfully sued the Sunday Times for libel after it printed one such mistake.
“Quite often these days people come up to me and say, ‘Oh, you’re the man who wrote dum-diddy-dum-dum,’” Norman said, referencing the pattern of that lead guitar riff. “They don’t even sing the melody! But everyone seems to know what they mean!”
Norman’s career, of course, continued apace beyond Bond. He continued to work regularly as a theatrical composure, writing music for shows that ran on the West End and Broadway (his 1980 show, Songbook, earned a Tony nomination for Best Book of a Musical). He also wrote music for films like Bob Hope’s Call Me Bwana and The Two Faces of Doctor Jekyll, as well as TV shows like Who Is Sylvia and Make Me an Offer.
His most lasting work, though, the Bond theme, remains an integral part of the ever-lasting series. Remembering the premiere of the 2012 Bond flick, Skyfall, Norman said, “It was very heartwarming for me at the Albert Hall premiere of Skyfall when the garage door opens, and they saw the original car, and the theme started everyone began applauding and cheering — that was a marvelous moment.”