07 Feb

At last, the Farnon filmography mysteries solved.. almost

By  Alexander Gleason
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by Alexander Gleason

The classic Robert Farnon discography is one of the great triumphs of musical research from the pre-computer days, when collating information about a composer's life & works was nothing short of damned hard labour (many's the hour I've spent laboriously trawling through catalogues and periodicals at the old National Sound Archive in South Ken)

Thanks to the combined efforts of David Ades, Don Furnell, Michael Maine and Alan Bunting, a definitive listing of Farnon's musical works was achieved (and, happily, it's viewable on this site). Likewise, the filmography which was part of that publication (also viewable here) is a fair work of research too, dealing with 25 feature films and the three documentaries ..... AHA! However, there's the problem – not so hot on the docs, I'm afraid. In the boys’ defence, information about documentary films was not readily available in the 1970s, and unlike the discography, the filmog has never really been updated, so I'm pleased to say, I think I can now clarify some (if not all) of the missing info on the short films (not in chronological order)

Firstly there is "This is London" (released in 1956 not 53) made by Associated British Pathe (i.e. Pathe News) for the British Travel Association – a good sturdy London travelogue designed for the American tourist market. Narrated by Rex Harrison – at that time probably America's best known Englishman (My Fair Lady) -- it's a 17 minute lightening tour around the sights of the capital. The score is a big orchestral tour-de-force played by the Symphonia orchestra – with nice title music including the Big Ben motif and a very pleasing bustling shopping theme. Many Farnon enthusiasts will already know this film; it's Bob on fine 50s form. It's been viewable on YouTube for several years now – 'London' and 'Rex Harrison' should be enough for the search box.

That one was pretty straightforward – the next one took me many years to solve. The filmography lists 'Time and Space' produced for Time-Life/Longines date unknown, and I spent far too much time scouring the databases and film library catalogues for that title, to absolutely no avail. Finally, the answer came – again thanks to YouTube.

Just about all the details above turned out to be wrong.

"Travelling through Time" is a 1965 largely animated documentary made for Rolex and PanAm Airlines (odd combination) – it deals with the concept of timekeeping, its history and how it will be adapted for the forthcoming space-age. It looks and sounds American, until you see it's researched and written by E.V.H. Emmett (the voice of Gaumont British News for some thirty-odd years). The score is minimal, but there are a few nice hints of the Farnon jazzy big-band sound, which I'm sure will please many.

'Rolex' 'Pan American' will be quite suitable key-words for a YouTube search

(It is incidentally a sequel to a 50s colour documentary – The Story of Time with a brilliant score by Guy Warrack – also worth viewing if you're interested in watches!)

Finally, 'Red Cross Documentary' (c.1946) remains a work in progress.

For perhaps three decades I have grappled with this one, and I think I have almost got it. I believe it to be a charity appeal short; more like1948 called "Just in Case" with a Farnon orchestral score conducted by Muir Mathieson. The British Red Cross have an archive, but very few films – they do however have this one and with their help, I hope to view it shortly, and will make a further report.

With any luck, after all these years, we will soon have all the Farnon documentary scores sorted out and included in a properly revised and definitive filmography.

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About Geoff 123
Geoff Leonard was born in Bristol. He spent much of his working career in banking but became an independent record producer in the early nineties, specialising in the works of John Barry and British TV theme compilations.
He also wrote liner notes for many soundtrack albums, including those by John Barry, Roy Budd, Ron Grainer, Maurice Jarre and Johnny Harris. He co-wrote two biographies of John Barry in 1998 and 2008, and is currently working on a biography of singer, actor, producer Adam Faith.
He joined the Internet Movie Data-base (www.imdb.com) as a data-manager in 2001 and looked after biographies, composers and the music-department, amongst other tasks. He retired after nine years loyal service in order to continue writing.