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Charlie Chaplin And Co: London's Musical Oscar Stars

Chris Lockie
By Chris Lockie Last edited 24 months ago
Charlie Chaplin And Co: London's Musical Oscar Stars

Charlie Chaplin (from Southwark) receives an Academy Award from Jack Lemmon (not from Southwark) at the 1972 Oscars.

The Academy Awards are upon us again, and in the midst of the overpaid hairstyles and actors pretending to be happy that one of their peers has beaten them to a gold-plated man, is a Londoner hoping to bring home the Oscar for Best Original Score. Gary Yershon — an associate artist of the Royal Shakespeare Company and former actor who moved into music during the last decade — is up for the award for his work on Mr Turner, the critically-acclaimed biopic about another artistic Londoner.

So in a bid to show solidarity with one of our own, we've decided to take a look at the previous Londoners who've been up for this particular award, and in doing so come to realise that some truly memorable movie scores have originated in our fine city. Six men and one woman from London have been nominated for the award since its introduction in 1934, with 14 nominations between them, and three wins.

William Walton: Henry V and Hamlet

Our old mate Bill Shakespeare inspired London’s first appearance in the category, as William Walton was nominated for Henry V in 1946 and Hamlet in 1948, each directed by and starring Laurence Olivier. Each score is considered a classic, though the latter was overshadowed at the time by the polarising movie in which Olivier brutally cut out major characters from the story and emphasised certain elements that purists were not keen on. Don’t mess with the Bard.

Here’s an excerpt from Henry V.

Leslie Bricusse: Doctor Dolittle, Scrooge, Goodbye, Mr. Chips, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory

It’s remarkable enough to be nominated for four Academy Awards without winning a single one, but considering the splendid movies which brought Leslie Bricusse to the committee’s attention there’s surely been a serious oversight. Doctor Dolittle in 1967, Goodbye, Mr. Chips in 1969, and Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory in 1971 (more of which below) certainly deserved the nod, but to have ignored the magnificent Scrooge in 1970 is quite dastardly of Hollywood. It lost to Let It Be by The Beatles, who were frankly cheating being in the category in the first place, what with being an actual band and that.

Here’s the wonderful Thank You Very Much from Scrooge.

Anthony Newley: Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory

Unlucky Leslie shared the 1971 nomination for this film’s score with Anthony Newley, the famous songwriter who also dabbled in acting and singing. Pure Imagination is arguably the film’s finest musical interlude, and Newley performed an excellent version of the song himself, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t drop the Gene Wilder version in here, complete with the relevant scene from the movie.

Charlie Chaplin: Limelight

London’s first win came in 1972, doubtless accompanied by a distinct lack of gasping as the victor’s name was read out. Charlie Chaplin had by that point long been regarded as one of the world’s finest entertainers, re-embraced by Hollywood after a period in the wilderness, which explains Limelight’s strange route to Oscars victory.

The film, a comedy-drama set in 1914 London, was largely shunned in the United States when originally released in 1952, as Chaplin at the time was in the midst of accusations of communist sympathising. 20 years later when all that nonsense had long died away, the film was given a proper release in the US and earned Chaplin his only ‘competitive’ Oscar, following a pair of honorary ones.

Here’s the theme from the film, the famous Terry’s Song.

George Fenton - Gandhi, Cry Freedom, Dangerous Liaisons, The Fisher King

Leslie Bricusse is not the only Londoner to have demonstrated four times that it’s the taking part that counts, with a quartet of nominations but sadly no wins. Gandhi kicked things off in 1982, Cry Freedom and Dangerous Liaisons followed in 1987 and 1988, and surely it was Fenton’s turn in 1991 for The Fisher King. It wasn’t to be. Fenton subsequently moved into television and received plaudits for his work on BBC nature series The Blue Planet and Planet Earth.

But back to the movies, here’s his theme to Gandhi.

Anne Dudley - The Full Monty 1997

It’s easy to forget just what a monster hit The Full Monty was back in 1997. But then who doesn’t want to see a bunch of average looking blokes get their old chaps out? Anne Dudley’s entertaining score proved as much of a winner with the Academy Awards panel as the movie did with the public, as the Beckenham-born composer’s work triumphed against the scores of As Good As It Gets and Anastasia.

Here’s a track from it.

Atticus Ross - The Social Network

2010 provided London with another winner; Atticus Ross, formerly of Ladbroke Grove, shared the award for The Social Network’s score with Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, for what one reviewer described as “the sonic document of the evolution of an online phenomenon”. Ross and Reznor evidently have a tremendous working relationship as they have since picked up a Grammy for their efforts on The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Here’s In Motion from the Facebook movie’s soundtrack.

Gary Yershon - Mr Turner

And finally to the man of the hour. Yershon’s score was recorded at British Grove Studios in Chiswick and is heavy on the strings, making for an evocative accompaniment to an excellent film. It’s better that you read a proper review of the soundtrack than endure Londonist’s attempt to describe it, but here’s a piece of music from it to get us all in the mood for Sunday’s ceremony.

Good luck Gary!

Last Updated 20 February 2015

Armando Rozario

I saw The Great Dictator in 1941. Chaplin's great film.