On this day in 1924, the award-winning composer, arranger and orchestra leader Angela Morley was born. She was musical director and orchestra conductor on the Goon Show for the majority of its run, succeeding Stanley Black.
Known at the time of the Goon Show’s run as Wally Stott, she transitioned in 1972 and continued her musical work, becoming the first openly transgender person to be nominated for an Oscar, as well as winning three Emmys for musical arrangement.
The best place to read more about Morley’s life is on her own website, where she tells her life story in her own words.
She had been appearing on the BBC since the Second World War when she was a member of the top-rated Geraldo Orchestra.
By the start of the 1950s she had given up playing to focus on composition and arrangement, and came up with the title theme for Hancock’s Half Hour, for which she also composed incidental music.
This ran alongside her Goon Show work, meaning she was exceptionally busy: as well as the incidental music there were also arrangements for Max Geldray and Ray Ellington. Often the incidental music was not straightforward, either, as Morley recalled in 1991:
“Spike made his needs very plainly known. He described in the script every week how he wanted it to be. And then of course, when we got to rehearsal, Spike would sometimes say, ‘No, no, no, it sounds too good!’”
(Angela Morley, from ‘At Last The Go On Show’, BBC radio documentary first broadcast in 1991.)
The music plays a huge role in Goon humour. From a tatty chord to designate a terrible pun, to a mournful violin solo as a character begs for money, to Minnie Bannister’s saxophone solos, they were often central to the plot.
Sometimes, Morley’s arrangements were jokes in and of themselves. In ‘Dishonoured’ – both the fifth series and eighth series versions – Seagoon decides to join the navy. Press play below to hear what happens next.
And then there is the national anthem of Yukkabbukkoo, from ‘The Sleeping Prince’.
“I know in one show, there were there had to be a national anthem for some Ruritanian sort of country in middle Europe… I composed this national anthem. Then when Spike heard it, he said: ‘No, that sounds much too good! I just want to hear one instrument at a time.’ “So it kind of started with piccolo and then it went to trombone and then it went to violin or something. And he was absolutely right, it sounded fantastic. I’d like to think I composed it that way!”
(Angela Morley describes working with Spike Milligan. Taken from ‘At Last The Go On Show’, BBC radio documentary first broadcast in 1991.)
(Ruritania is a fictional eastern European country invented by author Anthony Hope in the late 1800s, that has since become a generic term for “romantic or fanciful places”, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary. But I digress.)
Here it is, in all its glory.
Outside of the Goons, Morley had a diverse and successful career. With her orchestra she appeared on hit records for Shirley Bassey, Scott Walker, and Dusty Springfield – as well as recording many songs with Harry Secombe and Max Geldray. Her work with Bassey included ‘As I Love You’, which became the first UK number one record by a Welsh artist when it topped the charts in January 1959.
She also arranged the UK’s Eurovision Song Contest entries in 1962 and 1963, back when we used to get more than “nil points”.
Her film music career included the orchestration, arrangement and some composition for the 1974 film The Little Prince, based on French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s book of the same name. It was this work that earned Morley her first Oscar nomination in 1975. Oscar nod number two came two years later for The Slipper and the Rose, a version of the Cinderella story.
Morley won three Emmys and was nominated for eight more between 1980 and 1990. Her wins were all for Outstanding Musical Direction, for her work on Christmas in Washington (US TV special, 1985), Julie Andrews: The Sound of Christmas (1988), and Julie Andrews in Concert (1990).
She died in January 2009 aged 84, remembered by The Film Music Society in its excellent obituary as “a superb composer and one of the finest arrangers to come out of Britain in the past half-century”.
The famed composer John Williams called Morley “one of the finest musicians I've ever known or worked with”. He added: “As an orchestrator, her skill was unsurpassed, with a technical perfection that was drawn on and nourished by a lifelong devotion to music. She will be irreplaceable and greatly missed.”
Find out loads more about Angela Morley's life and career on her website: www.angelamorley.com.