Who Was Edwin Astley?
Well, he was the master craftsman of the action-adventure television soundtrack.
Throughout the 1960’s and 70’s if you switched on the Box the likelihood is that you would hear a composition from this man. He was the musician of choice for the producers of the most popular action-adventure series of that era. He just had the knack; he could take the programme concept and come up with a theme to match.
Take the familiar nine-note trumpet fanfare that introduced ‘The Adventures of Robin Hood’ (ITV, 1955-59) and the graceful seven-note melodic phrase over the introduction to ’The Saint’ (ITV, 1962-69).
A forgotten hero, with a track record that surpasses most of his piers, yet we don’t know much about this man.
Edwin Thomas Astley was born into a working-class family in Warrington, Lancashire in 1922.
His musical interests began after his uncle gave him a violin.
He then joined the he Royal Army Service Corps, playing the clarinet and the saxophone, soon moving on to arranging military as well as the more popular dance music. After this he joined the ’Percy Pease dance band’ which lead to him forming his own ensemble, known as the ‘Ted Astley Orchestra’.
They performed primarily in the north of England, and were regularly heard broadcasting from the Manchester studios of the BBC.
A move south came next, he found work at music publishers ‘Francis,
Day and Hunter’. Arranging for the
popular Band leader ‘Geraldo’ working also with Popular singers of that period
such as Vera Lynn and Anne Shelton.
Title Sequence to 'Fabian of Scotland Yard'
In 1953 he dipped his toe into the world of film music. Engaged by Danziger brothers (Edward J. and Harry Lee), a duo of British-based American producers, makers of budget television series and supporting feature films, the list includes : Gilbert Harding Speaking of Murder (1953), Star of My Night (1954), A Tale of Three Women (1954), all directed by Danzigers' regular Paul Dickson.
In addition he also worked on the Danzigers' suspense anthology series ‘The Vise’ (which was shown on a variety of ITV companies from 1955). then 'Fabian of the Yard' (BBC, 1954-56) followed by ’Colonel March of Scotland Yard’ a vehicle for Boris Karloff.
The big break came when he was requested to write the incidental music for ‘The
Adventures of Robin Hood’ (ITV, 1955-59). This series was sold to the USA and became
This cemented Edwin Astleys reputation as principal composer for the adventure series.
The Buccaneers was a 1956 Sapphire Films television drama series for ITC Entertainment, networked by CBS in the US and shown on ATV and selected ITV companies in the UK. The series ran for 39 half-hour monochrome episodes. Robert Shaw stars in this well-made, rousing British adventure series of the mid-50s. Taking place in the early 18th century, in the British Caribbean colony of New Providence (The Bahamas), episodes revolved around ex-pirate raider Dan Tempest,who has accepted a pardon from King George, and the job of defending the islands, in his trusty ship 'The Sultana', along with a rag-tag, but hearty Crew of reformed ex-buccaneers, also pardoned by The King.
This is the original ending for the 1950's adventure series, The Adventures Of Robin Hood.
After that came music for the swashbuckling escapades of ‘The Buccaneers’ (ITV, 1956-57) and ‘The Adventures of Sir Lancelot’ (ITV, 1956-57).
Throughout this period he also supplied the music for ‘Adventures of the Big Man’ (BBC, 1956), ‘The Invisible Man’ (ITV, 1958-59), Ivanhoe (ITV, 1958) and’ International Detective’ (ITV, 1959-61).
Producer Ralph Smart enrolled Astley as musical director for the secret agent series ‘Danger Man’ (ITV, 1960-62; 1964-66). Initially this was a half-hour series.
He composed the series' title and incidental music as rapid moving big brass , incorporating a bold jazz saxophone.
The Half Hour Danger Man Opening Title Sequence
Jazz stylings would become the signature in a lot of Astley’s work.
The Hour Long Danger Man Opening Title Sequence
Probably he will be best remembered for penning the score for ‘The Saint’(ITV, 1962-69). This series was based the popular adventure novels written by Leslie Charteris.
It was one of the most successful ITV/ITC action-adventure series of the 1960s, embraced by audiences in both Britain and the USA. He wrote two arrangements, a slow version used in the black and white episodes (ITV, 1962-65) and a more up-tempo arrangement of the same theme for the colour episodes (ITV 1966-69).
His seven-note phrase, rumoured to have been originally performed by Library Music Legend Barbara Moore, would be played over the introduction to 'The Saint 'character, visually accompanied by an animated halo, more often than not, clumsily positioned above Roger Moore's head, this would herald the opening title sequence.
The Original Colour Opening Titles for 'The Saint '
Future work included the ATV/ITC series ‘Gideon's Way’ (ITV, 1965-66), ‘The Baron’ (ITV, 1966-67), ‘The Champions’ (ITV, 1968-69), ‘Department S’ (ITV, 1969-70) and ‘Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased)’ (ITV, 1969-71).
'The Baron' Open Title Sequence
'Department S' Opening titles
The pilot episode of 'Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased)' Marty Hopkirk is murdered by the husband of a client
but returns as a ghost to help Jeff bring the man responsible for his
murder to justice.
A classic title sequence followed by Craig, Sharron and Richard trying to explore the limits of their powers. From the 60s classic The Champions
In 1969, in contrast to his previous achievements, he composed the music for Sir Kenneth Clark's 13-part historical documentary series ‘Civilisation’ made by the BBC. He provided a fittingly regal and evocative composition employing grandiose organ music.
Episode 7 of the BBC Series 'Civilisation'
His film work included ‘The Mouse That Roared’ (1959), starring Peter Sellers, ‘Digby: the Biggest Dog in the World’ (1973) and the 1962 adaptation of Phantom of the Opera, for which he composed a unique operatic work.
Edwin Ashley retired in the late 1970s, and moved out of London to Oxfordshire, not entirely giving up on music, he converted a garage into a recording studio and obtained a quantity of modern synthesisers, were over the next few years he built up a successful music library.
This is a unique one off, a change to the normal Saint opening
titles. Still using Astleys music, but more elaborate animation.
Edwin Astley passed away in Goring, Oxfordshire on the 19th May 1998, leaving a proud legacy of music for future generations to appreciate.
Radio Sounds Familiar includes masses of tracks from Edwin in the playlist so please tune in and enjoy the genius of his work.