Edwin (Ted) Astley

Edwin (Ted)
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Interview Date(s): 
25 May 1993
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BEHP 0284 S Edwin (Ted) Astley synopsis


Educated at a school in Warrington, which he left at 14. Father was in the building trade and played the cornet in the local brass band. His father also played an instrument called a melodeon which seems to have added to the boy’s musical interest.. Ted started to learn the violin at 9 years of age. At 14 he was making more money playing violin at local hops than at his regular employment with Richmans Gas Stove Co. He also bought a saxophone and learnt to play that, receiving lessons from a relative. This he also played at local dances.

He volunteered for the Army at 17 in 1939 and eventually joined the band of the RASC, based at Aldershot. He was posted to Italy with the band to play to the troops at Monte Casino who were resting between battles – in full view of the Germans, for which he received the Italian Star. He could also now play the clarinet. The Army bandmaster wanted him to go to Kneller Hall but because he did not have the necessary School Certificate that was not possible. Instead he was made up to Corporal, studied more music and began to compose and arrange for the Army. The bandmaster, it appears, was ambitious, and was recruiting top musicians from show business, turning the band into a concert orchestra.

After the war he worked as an instrumentalist in a Manchester dance band. In due course he was asked to forma band at Sale Lido where he spent hours and hours composing and arranging. Ted Astley’s band did a couple of broadcasts before the job folded in 1952. He came to London and was contacted by Geraldo who had admired his work at Sale. He was given the job of orchestrating Tip Top Tunes. He then went to Francis Day & Hunter, the publishers and when they heard about his work for Geraldo they gave him a job. He was now becoming very successful and the Jack Hylton pianist, whom he knew from Army days, suggested he might like to write for films. He was then introduced to the Danzigers who were looking for an up and coming composer. He started work and loved every minute of it – details. He describes his work with Muir Mathieson on To Paris with Love. 1954.

The first Danziger film he worked on at Riverside was Gilbert Harding, Speaking of Murder, 1953, a similar format to the Lustgarten series. Ted hired the Melanchrino Orchestra, but the musicians, sensing he was new to the job, took him for a ride! The Royal Philharmonic were used after that – they were gentlemen!. The next production was Colonel March of Scotland Yard, with Boris Karloff which led to the Robin Hood series. 1955-58. Ted did 140-odd episodes of Robin Hood, writing the incidental music and the famous opening fanfare – but not the theme tune although he the score for that. His first work for British Transport Films was on Scotland for Sport 1958. (Details recalled). At the same time he was writing for features: he had a reputation for being fast and inexpensive. He was approached by an agency to forget about the cheap work, to start again and work up into the higher money. He did several Son et Lumiere productions,, two at the Tower, one at Scarborough and some abroad.

Ted always conducted his own music. One of the other TV series he did was The Saint 1962-69.


He talks about The Saint and other TV series, all of which are listed on the attached filmography [apparently missing. DS] He also talks about his work in connection with competitions he has entered during his enforced retirement. A documentary short about Francis Bacon is discussed. He philosophises on music for film. He discusses The Mouse that Roared, 1959 and Carl Foreman in particular. He talks about a BKS lecture he gave about the technical problems of recording film music. The Canadian Film Board asked him to do the music for a film about the Mounties, but the Musicians Union would not allow him to do the work. There seemed to be no reason for this, other than that the MU were against TV at that time. The General Secretary of the MU at the time was a Scot, and the height of his ambition was to play in a theatre orchestra pit. He knew nothing about composition, and was dead against Tv and couldn’t be reasoned with. Ted was only a member of the union under pressure. He points out the unusual arrangement whereby the employer – the conductor in this case – has to be a member of the same union as the rank and file. He found himself at loggerheads with sound editors too, and provides some examples.


He was asked to write an opera for the Hammer version of The Phantom of the Opera, 1962.  He had never written an opera before and explains how he set about it. With Hammer he also did Clean Sweep 1958 and Visa to Canton 1960.


Editor’s note: Ted’s main contribution to films and TV was prolific to say the least – literally several hundred productions if one includes all the TV series and recorded items, all of which are listed in his own 6 page filmography attached to this synopsis [apparently missing DS] Although not specifically mentioned, he appears to have been born in 1922. I make the usual disclaimer about the correct spelling of some names which may need to be verified. 

David W. Robson.