Former BBC DJ Danny Baker has hailed the late ‘Avengers’ composer Laurie Johnson a “brave maestro”.
The broadcaster’s tribute was one of a flood of tributes to the British-born musician – best known for scoring the 1960s spy show as well as films including Stanley Kubrick’s ‘Dr Strangelove’ – who passed away in his sleep aged 96 on Tuesday (23.01.24) in North London.
Ex-BBC presenter Danny, 66, said on X: “The magnificent Laurie Johnson has passed. Bravo maestro. He takes to the tomb the secret of whatever instrument it was leading on this.”
Steve Rosenberg, Russia Editor for BBC News, posted a musical tribute on piano for Laurie, which he captioned: “Sad to hear that Laurie Johnson has died. Here’s my musical tribute to the man who composed some of the greatest themes in British TV: from ‘Animal Magic’ to ‘The Avengers’.”
Floods of fans also posted tributes to the late composer, whose other film scores included ‘Tiger Bay’ from 1959, the Werner von Braun biopic ‘I Aim at the Stars’ and sci-fi and fantasy films ‘First Men in the Moon’ and 1972’s ‘Captain Kronos, Vampire Hunter’.
His music for ‘The Avengers’, which starred John Steed and Emma Peel as Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg, gave him star status.
He came aboard for the fourth season of the British-made series, which aired in America starting in 1966, and remained with the show after Diana’s departure and the arrival of Linda Thorson as Tara King in the series’ sixth season.
He said scoring nearly every episode was “an unheard-of extravagance”, and added about the work: “Sometimes there would be as much as 30 minutes of music to be recorded and synchronized every week. Over the whole series I must have composed around 50 hours of music.”
Laurie reprised the opening bars of his original ‘Avengers’ theme – but wove it into a new piece – when the same production team launched ‘The New Avengers’ in 1976, which starred Joanna Lumley.
The series aired in a late-night time slot in America in 1978, a year after Laurie went on to score popular UK crime drama ‘The Professionals’.
His music for four TV movies, all based on Barbara Cartland romance novels – ‘A Hazard of Hearts’, ‘The Lady and the Highwayman’, ‘A Ghost in Monte Carlo’ and ‘Duel of Hearts’ – have been hailed as orchestral masterpieces.
Born 7 February, 1927, in Hampstead, England, Laurie studied at the Royal College of Music and spent four years in the Coldstream Guards.
He became an acclaimed big-band music arranger, with some of the music he contributed to the KPM music library being heard decades later in the cartoons ‘Ren and Stimpy’ and ‘SpongeBob SquarePants’.
He is survived by his wife Dot, a daughter, son-in-law and grandson.
His family’s statement on his death said: “Laurie’s music touched the lives of millions around the world.
“Throughout his illustrious career, he composed numerous iconic scores, themes and soundtracks that graced our lives across film, TV, theatre and radio. In this time of mourning, we draw strength from the beautiful memories we shared with him.
“We remember Laurie as an extraordinary individual who embraced life with passion and brought joy to so many. His kindness, compassion and infectious sense of fun and laughter will be profoundly missed by all that knew him.”
Away from music the composer had a passion for dogs and for the work of Charles Dickens, and collected first editions and memorabilia associated with the writer.
He saw similarities in their work, once saying: “Like me, Dickens was writing for a commercial end and under pressure. It doesn’t mean your work is going to be any less good.”