Angela Morley was born at Leeds, Yorkshire on 10 March 1924.
Her birth name was Walter (Wally) Stott, and she became well-known
in Britain for her recordings and radio work - especially
with the famous "Goon Show". Her high public profile meant
that she attracted a lot of unwelcome publicity in 1972 when
she decided to have a sex change operation, and for a while
she put her musical career on hold. Happily for us, she soon
overcame the difficulties in her personal life, and went on
to produce many new compositions and arrangements that received
Back in the 1920s her parents had a shop that sold jewellery,
silver plate, watches and clocks. She said that her earliest
musical memory was of sitting on the floor surrounded by records
of the bands of Jack Payne and Henry Hall and playing them
on the family's enormous wind up gramophone. Her father played
the ukulele-banjo that he used to let her tune for him, using
his pitch pipe, to either G-C-E-A or A-D-F#-B. Her mother
had a contralto voice and sang: 'There is a Lady Passing By'
and, her favourite, 'Big Lady Moon'.
When she was eight years old, Angela's father bought a brand
new Challen upright piano that had pride of place in their
over-the-shop Sunday sitting room, and sent her to an elderly
lady a few streets away for piano lessons. Three months later,
her father became ill and very unexpectedly died at the early
age of thirty-nine. The piano lessons were immediately stopped
and never recommenced. They are the only piano lessons that
Angela ever had. A year later, her mother, who had no head
for business, sold the shop and they went off to live with
her parents at Swinton near Rotherham, Yorks.
At the age of ten, Angela remembers having had a month-long
love affair with the violin but her grandfather, a prankster
who didn't like the violin, smeared butter on her bow and
very effectively brought her career as a violinist to an end.
At eleven, she started to play the accordion, had lessons
and won a couple of competitions. A judge from the BBC advised
her mother that there was no future in the accordion, and
that she should learn a band or orchestral instrument, for
instance the clarinet or saxophone. Angela's mother bought
her a clarinet at the local pawnbroker's for £1. It was built
all in one piece; it was a simple system instrument that was
'high pitch' and had a broken mouthpiece. She had lessons
on it and started to play in the school orchestra. Several
months later, a kind mother bought her an alto saxophone that
said 'Pennsylvania' across the bell. Many years later Angela
learned that it was a cheap instrument made in Czechoslovakia.
She started to play, unpaid of course, in the semi-pro band
of Bert Clegg at the Empress Ballroom, Mexborough, Yorks.
Angela left high school at fifteen and went on tour with
'Archie's Juvenile Band' for ten shillings a week (50p). On
joining 'Archie's' band, Angela was asked to name her favourite
band. 'Ambrose' she replied, whereupon they all laughed themselves
silly and queried, 'What, you've never heard of Benny Goodman
and Tommy Dorsey'? She confessed that she hadn't, and her
education was taken in hand that very moment as they all headed
off to the nearest record shop. She started to take down arrangements
from records about this time under the tutelage of the pianist,
Eddie Taylor, who was an old hand at it.
World War II started and created a new dimension to her
life that was anything but a hindrance. Suddenly, with all
the bands starting to lose musicians who were drafted into
the armed forces, a fifteen-year-old musician who could sight-read
was eagerly sought by every bandleader in the UK. Before she
was seventeen and a half, she had gone from band to band (Billy
Smith at Croydon Palais, Billy Merrin & his Commanders at
the Plaza Ballroom in Derby, Mrs. Wilf Hamer's Band at the
Grafton Rooms in Liverpool, Nat Bookbinder & his Chapters,
Reub Sunshine's Band in Nottingham, Bram Martin's Band on
the North Pier in Blackpool) in quick succession until she
found herself playing lead alto with Oscar Rabin's Band. Still
touring (which she didn't enjoy), but broadcasting and making
records too. It was during her two years with this band that
she graduated from taking down records to writing arrangements
for pay. Her very first recordings (on alto saxophone) were
playing in the Oscar Rabin band for Rex Records (Decca) in
London on 25 September 1941.
At the age of twenty in 1944, Angela joined the Geraldo
Orchestra, arguably the best band in the UK at the time. The
Geraldo Band practically lived at the BBC doing several radio
programmes a week. The great bonus for a developing arranger
was that the band might be a swing band on Monday and then
augmented to symphonic size on Tuesday, while on other days
perhaps various combinations in-between, and on occasion even
adding a choir. Since she got to arrange for all these combinations,
was there ever a better arranging academy? When talking about
those days Angela said that she doubted that anything like
that exists today. At this time Angela's work was under the
name 'Wally Stott'.
Self-taught so far, it was during this period that she started
to study harmony, counterpoint and composition with a Hungarian
composer, resident in London, Matyas Seiber. She also was
an enthusiastic participant in a conducting course taught
by the German born conductor, Walter Goehr. Both Robert Farnon
and Tommy Dorsey arranger Bill Finegan had written many of
the arrangements in Geraldo's repertoire, and Angela fell
under the spell of both of these great talents and she says
that she remains, to this day, greatly indebted to them.
At age twenty-six she decided to give up playing to concentrate
on writing. She was busy from the start and three years later,
aged twenty-nine, a lot of good things started to happen.
In 1953 she became musical director of the newly launched
Philips Records (UK), arranging and conducting every week
for all the contract artistes and occasionally for American
ones like Rosemary Clooney and Mel Tormé as well as recording
several instrumental albums of her own. These included selections
of music by Jerome Kern, George Gershwin and Irving Berlin,
and a popular collection of Christmas music. Other popular
singers whose work was enhanced by her arrangements include
Helen Forrest, Marlene Dietrich, Noel Coward,, Petula Clark,
Rosemary Squires, Julie Andrews, Diana Dors, Shirley Bassey,
Frankie Vaughan, Anne Shelton, Dusty Springfield, Scott Walker
and Ronnie Carroll - with whom she also appeared on stage
in Luxembourg conducting his entry 'Ring-A-Ding Girl' in the
Eurovision Song Contest in 1962.
By this time the London music publishers Chappells had placed
Angela under contract to compose (and occasionally conduct)
for their Recorded Music Library. Originally encouraged by
Robert Farnon (her first published work for Chappells 'A Canadian
in Mayfair' was dedicated to him), she quickly established
her own distinctive style which found great favour with lovers
of light music. Among her vast output, particular favourites
included 'Rotten Row', 'Mock Turtles', 'Quiz', 'Travelling
Along', 'Miss Universe', 'Flight by Jet', 'Casbah', 'Commonwealth
March', 'Practice Makes Perfect', 'China', 'India', 'Focus
on Fashion', and 'Skyways'.
Angela started to score films under her own name (she had
'ghost'-written two scores the previous year) and was writing
all the cues for a top BBC comedy show: 'Hancock's Half Hour'
and doing the same, plus conducting, for 'The Goon Show' which
was probably the most successful BBC radio comedy show of
the 1950s. The same year, 1953, she started to score films
for Associated British Picture Corporation at Boreham Wood
Studios where Louis Levy was Music Director.
Among the impressive list of early films with Angela's participation
(not always credited) are: 'Dance Hall' featuring the Geraldo
Orchestra (1950), 'Happy Go Lovely' (1951), 'Hindle Wakes'
(1952), 'Will Any Gentleman' (1953), 'For Better For Worse'
(1954), 'Gentlemen Marry Brunettes' orchestrating for Robert
Farnon (1955), 'It's Never Too Late' (1956), 'Charley Moon'
(1956), 'Let's Be Happy' (1957), 'The Heart of a Man' (1959)
and 'The Lady Is A Square' (1959).
The 1950s was a very exciting time to be recording, because
not only had tape taken over from direct to disc recording
and advanced German microphones were in every studio, but
towards the end of the decade stereo had magically added a
new dimension to sound. However, these advances had not found
their way into film studios and Angela confessed that to go
to a cinema to hear one's latest score was absolute torture.
She was so depressed by these experiences that by the time
she was thirty-six (1960), she started to turn down any offers
to score films.
During the 1960s, although she had a very busy and interesting
musical life (including doing a lot of recording for Reader's
Digest Records), writing arrangements for Benny Goodman, Nelson
Riddle, arranging and conducting some Mel Tormé TV Specials
and scoring some documentary films about art for television,
she regretted having turned her back on feature film scoring
and tried her best to get back into it. Finally, starting
in 1969, she scored 'The Looking Glass War' (from a John Le
Carré spy novel featuring a very young Anthony Hopkins), 'When
Eight Bells Toll' (another Anthony Hopkins movie) and 'Captain
Nemo and the Underwater City'. This led to her writing adaptation
scores for 'The Little Prince' (collaborating with songwriters
Lerner & Loewe) and 'The Slipper and the Rose' (collaborating
with Robert & Richard Sherman).
In 1977, she scored almost all of 'Watership Down'. Angela
was officially credited as the composer of this score but
she had taken over the commission from indisposed composer
Malcolm Williamson, who had written six minutes of very high
quality music (that is the first six minutes of music in the
film), and who was given the not very satisfactory credit:
Additional Music by Malcolm Williamson! In between scoring
films Angela was also a regular conductor of the now, alas,
defunct BBC Radio Orchestra and, from time to time, helped
John Williams with the orchestration of his scores for 'Star
Wars', 'Superman' and 'The Empire Strikes Back'.
She had been nominated for an Academy Award for 'The Little
Prince' and 'The Slipper and the Rose', and went to California
on both occasions to attend the 'Oscar' ceremonies. The wonderfully
warm and generous way that she was made to feel at home there
by her American colleagues and friends resulted in her being
rather seduced by the California life style and she soon returned
with the intention of staying, if not forever, at least for
some time. She rented an apartment in Brentwood and set about
getting permission to work. With this, she was soon scoring
television at Warner Bros.
By 1980, Angela had bought a house and became further involved
with American TV. In the years from 1979 to 1990, she scored
several TV films and many episodes of TV series like Dallas,
Dynasty, Hotel, Falcon Crest, Cagney & Lacey, Emerald Point,
Madame X, The Colbys, Summer Girl, Two Marriages, Threesome,
Wonder Woman, Island Son, Blue Skies and McClain's Law. She
conducted at most of the Hollywood studios such as Warner
Bros., Paramount, M.G.M., Universal and 20th Century-Fox.
During the summer, she used to write many arrangements for
the Boston 'Pops' Orchestra during the fourteen years that
John Williams was that orchestra's conductor, in addition
to helping him with his scores for 'E.T.', 'Hook', 'Home Alone'
I & II and 'Schindler's List'. She was nominated six times
for an Emmy Award for TV composing and won three Emmy Awards
for arranging. In addition, she wrote many arrangements for
Julie Andrews and Mel Tormé and occasionally some for opera
stars like Frederica von Stade, Barbara Hendricks and Placido
Angela later admitted that she never really tried very hard
to find feature film commissions. In Hollywood one's recent
track record is all-important, and, in her case, on her arrival
from England, what had it been? A film about 'a little prince';
one about 'Cinderella' and an animated one (animated films
were, at this time, something that children watched on Saturday
morning TV) about 'some rabbits'! No sex, violence, explosions!
There had been lots of those things in her earlier films but
they had not been recent or high profile enough to count.
In short, she couldn't 'get arrested' as they say. In addition
to a lot of scoring for TV, she worked on many feature films
for some very good composers like John Williams, Richard Rodney
Bennett, John Mandel, Miklos Rosza, David Raksin, Alex North,
Bill Conti, William Kraft, André Previn, Sol Kaplan, Pat Williams,
David Shire, Lyn Murray, John Morris & Ernest Gold.
Big changes were taking place in film music. 20th Century-Fox
was the only remaining studio that had a music department
head, Lionel Newman, who regularly conducted music scoring
sessions. This was a far cry from the 'golden years' of Hollywood
when brilliant musicians like Victor Young, Alfred Newman,
John Green, Ray Heindorf etc. ran the music departments at
all the studios. They had great power on the studio lot and
used it to promote and to protect composers in their charge.
Angela experienced this with Lionel Newman.
Another big change had been the coming of synthesizers.
Producers long, and understandably, frustrated by their inability
to look into what the composer was up to and having to wait
until the scoring session to find out what the music was going
to sound like, discovered that the composer could make a synthesizer
demo and play it with the picture. Today, composers are given
far less time to write their scores than has been the practice
in the past, and Angela said that to be distracted by the
constant requirement to make demos of everything must be a
During her last six or so years while in Los Angeles, life
had become less and less appealing. As soon as the Cold War
came to an end, they had a bad recession in L.A.'s biggest
industry, aerospace. Then they had race riots followed by
fires, then floods and great demographic changes caused by
immigration. Finally, on Jan. 17th 1994, there was a big,
very scary earthquake centred only six miles from her house.
She decided that she simply had to go and live somewhere else.
The 'somewhere else' had to be out of California because there
are earthquake faults all over the state. She took a look
at Scottsdale, Arizona (only one hour's flight time to L.A.)
where there has been no history of earthquakes, and loved
what she saw. Several months later, Angela bought a house
This almost completes her biography. She was delighted that
John Williams still seemed to like her arrangements: she wrote
three for a CD that he recorded with the London Symphony Orchestra
in London called 'Hollywood Sound' and three more that he
recorded conducting the Pittsburgh Symphony with Itzhak Perlman
playing the violin solos on a CD called 'Cinema Serenade'.
She wrote five more scores for Itzhak Perlman a year later
for a sequel to 'Cinema Serenade' called 'Cinema Serenade
II', and she also continued to write occasional scores for
the Boston 'Pops' under their new conductor Keith Lockhart.
In March of 2001, Angela was asked to arrange a medley of
the five nominated film scores for Itzhak Perlman & Yo Yo
Ma to play at the Academy Awards ceremony.
In 1998, she founded, in Scottsdale, the Chorale of the
Alliance Française of Greater Phoenix.
Angela returned to Britain and Europe on regular occasions,
and in 2001 she was at EMI's Abbey Road Studios in London
where the John Wilson Orchestra recorded on CD sixteen of
her older arrangements entitled 'Soft Lights and Sweet Music'
for Vocalion Records. The success of this venture prompted
a second album, recorded in May 2003, this time concentrating
on Angela's own compositions for films and television, plus
a few of her charming orchestral cameos; 'The Film and Television
Music of Angela Morley' was released in November 2003. A growing
number of her early compositions have also appeared on CDs
in the Guild 'Golden Age of Light Music' series. In 2005 Angela
was the guest on Brian Kay's Light Programme - the leading
BBC Radio-3 weekly show which championed the very best in
Angela Morley's musical career has given immense pleasure
to millions around the world. Like so many of her contemporaries,
her early years were spent as a 'jobbing musician' in the
dance bands that were so popular at the time, gradually becoming
respected for her superior arrangements and compositions.
During her mid- and later career she has produced some film
scores of sheer beauty, that deserve to be heard in their
own right - not merely as background behind dialogue and sound
effects. Fortunately for her legion of admirers, these are
now starting to emerge on commercial recordings, and one can
only hope that a lot more of her music will appear on CD and
in the concert hall in the future. She received three Emmy
awards and two Oscar nominations.
Her last four compositions were called 'Reverie', 'Valse
Bleue', 'Harlequin' and 'The Liaison'. She arranged for them
to be privately recorded, but they have not yet been released
In recent years Angela had bravely fought a long battle
against cancer. On Boxing Day 2008 she suffered a fall in
the bathroom at her home in Scottsdale which broke her hip.
Prompt surgery satisfactorily dealt with this injury, but
sadly complications soon set in. On 14 January 2009 she passed
away peacefully in a hospice with her beloved partner Chris
and other family members at her side.
David Ades (January 2009)
This biography is largely based on Angela Morleys
own autobiography on her website: www.angelamorley.com
Reports on the July 2001 and May 2003 sessions at Abbey
Road can be found via the Journal
Into Melody pages in this website.
For details of Vocalion recordings, visit the Dutton
Laboratories (Vocalion) website via our Links