Born of musical parents, Barry Gray went on to study at the Royal Manchester College of Music and at Blackburn Cathedral where he learned harmony and counterpoint; later studying composition with Matyas Sieber, the eminent Hungarian teacher. His first job in the profession was with Feldman's music publishers in London where he gained much experience scoring for many different combinations for theater, variety and large and small radio orchestras. Later, he became composer-arranger at Radio Normandy at their commercial radio station in Portland Place where he remained until he outbreak of World War II. After six years of service in the raf, in Africa, India and Burma, he returned to London where he freelanced writing for publishers and films at the Denham Studios. He also began to write much special material, compositions and orchestrations for bbc shows including the Terry Thomas radio series, To Town with Terry. He was also scoring for a variety of artists including Eartha Kitt and Hoagy Carmichael. In 1949 he joined Dame Vera Lynn as accompanist-arranger scoring her arrangements for the stage, Decca recordings and radio and tv shows, maintaining a happy relationship with her and her husband for ten years.
In 1956, Barry became Musical Director for AP Films Ltd. – which later became The Century 21 Organisation – and during the next 18 years composed, arranged and conducted the original music for ten television series and several films for producers Gerry and Sylvia Anderson. It is this work for the Anderson shows, especially uniquely-flavored marionation series such as Fireball XL5 and Thunderbirds, which has given Barry Gray his own special place in the film music world.
Barry Gray considers his favorite composers to be Bach, Mozart and Beethoven, the "three greats" he terms them, as well as the French impressionists Debussy and Ravel. In his early days he was a keen student of Rimsky Korsakov's book on orchestration and Berlioz' Instrumentation. As for film composers, Barry's favorites were Max Steiner and Miklos Rozsa.
But back to Twizzle. Author Roberta Leigh had previously known of Barry Gray due to a mutual association with singer Vera Lynn who had recorded several of Leigh's children's songs, rearranged by Gray, on a Decca record album. When Leigh brought her character and her idea to Gerry Anderson, she stipulated that Barry Gray come with them as musical director. She did not want Gray to be the composer, however; she had a friend, who was not a musician, who hummed tunes into a tape recorder and she wanted Gray to use them for the music for The Adventures of Twizzle. Leigh brought Gerry Anderson to Gray's house in London to meet him and hear the hummed tapes and that was the first encounter of two men who would become professionally inseparable. Having heard the humming on the tape, Anderson was knocked out when he attended the recording session at Elstree Studios and heard how Gray had transformed those simple hums into fully orchestrated music.
The next production, also created by Roberta Leigh, was Torchy, the Battery Boy. This time, she sang her own tunes into the tape recorder which again Barry orchestrated into the final themes. An hmv record album of the Twizzle songs, featuring Roberta Leigh doing all the voices, dates from this period. While doing this, Barry also began to set up his own recording studio in London which he started in 1950 and which specialized in electronics and experimental effects which also greatly interested Anderson. The studio was used for incidental music for commercials and other work for the bbc and for Vera Lynn, all of which, including tours to Europe with Lynn plus the Anderson/Leigh shows, kept Barry highly busy.
After the two Anderson shows had come to an end Barry worked on a special series for the bbc Orchestra. The music director for this show was very keen to do special material, within the orchestra, that would appeal to children. Barry conceived a creature called Dumpy, a magical little character who would take himself to any part of the world and tell the viewer about it while the orchestra played the music of that particular region.
Meanwhile, Gerry Anderson conceived the idea for a children's puppet show, a Western series with occasional aspects of magic. Knowing of Barry's involvement with the bbc series, Gerry asked him to write the script. Barry thought up the format, named the show Four Feather Falls, and wrote the first draft. The series were sold to Granada Television in 1958 and Barry composed the music, including five Western songs which were used throughout the series, sung by then-popular vocalist Michael Holiday. Shortly after completing the series, Holiday was killed in a car crash.
Barry continued to work with the Andersons on a television film, Crossroads to Crime (1959), after which came the series which allowed both them and Barry Gray to find their own niche in their respective fields. The show was Supercar and, like Four Feather Falls, the Andersons conceived it as a puppet (or, more precisely, marionette) show in which all of the characters were hand-operated marionettes. Rather than a Western, this was a science fiction story and it was an immediate success which soon launched additional series which achieved greater popularity — Fireball XL5, Stingray, Thunderbirds and others. Around the same time, Barry was becoming increasingly interested in electronic music. This was ages before synthesizers were available and much of what he had he procured or manufactured himself, expanding the North London recording studio he had set up in 1950. In his search for unusual and experimental instruments Barry discovered the Ondes Martenot, a French instrument developed from the Theremin, which would produce sound oscillations which were controlled with a keyboard. Barry bought one of the instruments and studied with its inventor Martenot in Paris.
When the Supercar show was created in 1959, Barry found an ideal use for the Ondes Martenot in the music for the futuristic series, integrating it with the other electronics and tape machines in his studios (these included an Ampex 4-track in-line recorder, three emi machines including one tr90 mastering console and a stereo playback machine with variable speed from 0 to 18 ips, various multi-track recorders, electric steel guitars and other gadgets which, in these days long before the advent of synthesizers and digital sound computers, were quite unique). The Martenot was used with great effect much later when Barry composed the score for Doppelgänger (known in the USA as Journey to the Far Side of the Sun). Barry used it and other instruments when he was asked to provide specialized electronic music for films like Dr. Who and the Daleks, Fahrenheit 451 and Island of Terror, the scores of which were composed by other composers.
Stingray (1963), which was the Andersons' first marionette series to be filmed in color, due to its bigger set-up and budget allowed Barry a larger orchestra than he had been able to use on any of the previous series. Supercar and Fireball XL5 had been recorded by 24-piece orchestras whereas Stingray was recorded at Pye Studios with an orchestra of 38 musicians.
Thunderbirds, the Andersons' next and possibly most successful series, used the same size orchestra. On most of these series the music, as was the case with most television scoring of the 60's in Britain and the United States, was partially original and partially re-used. About two-thirds of the episodes use original music scored specifically for the occasion; the rest re-uses music written initially for other episodes, a practice made frequent by budgetary considerations. For Thunderbirds Are Go! (1966), the first feature-length movie derived from the series, Gerry Anderson said he wanted a big symphonic sound. They settled on a 70-piece orchestra. The Thunderbirds Are Go! score was recorded over six sessions, engineered by Barry's old friend Eric Tomlinson at Anvil Studios near Denham. Thunderbird 6 (1967), the sequel, used a 56-piece orchestra and Barry found it especially enjoyable to write that score inasmuch as the film's international locales allowed him to write in different styles, including Russian, Indian and Swiss.
The Thunderbirds Theme, composed for the series and carried over into both features, is probably Barry Gray's most successful composition – having been recorded many times by himself and others – although Barry has said that he personally prefers his themes from Secret Service and Doppelgänger. For Thunderbirds, Gerry Anderson had suggested that a military flavor in the music would be good for it since the show was a dramatic series with militaristic overtones. Barry's music was ideal and in fact many military bands have adopted the Thunderbirds Theme into their programs. Secret Service was a series about an agent working for a secret organization called bishop and Anderson thought that something in the style of Bach would be appropriate accompaniment, suggesting the French vocal group the Swingle Singers be utilized. Barry flew to France to arrange this but realized the budget would not accommodate them. On the flight home, his theme for a three-part fugue in the style of Bach was born and very successfully handled in England by the Mike Sammes Singers. Music theme composing is something you either can or cannot do, Barry has said. Fortunately, I have a sort of mechanism that triggers off when someone asks me to write something and I see an episode or film and get some kind of triggering off of the type of music the film needs. Also, I work best under pressure. If it has to be finished by tomorrow morning it'll be ready by tomorrow morning. It is something built in.
During the early 1960's Barry had wanted to build an electronic timer for music recording that would give time not in seconds but in footage. He had the timer built in Birmingham and fitted with a remote control so he could conduct with the timer on his rostrum and actually fit the music to that footage timer. Says Gray: "There was very little to be edited afterwards. When the music was slightly shorter, Allen Willis might take out three or four frames of film to make it fit."
Barry's collecting of electronic instruments and gadgets continued throughout his life. After the Martenot and the older equipment dating back to Supercar, he obtained one of the first British synthesizers as well as a ring modulator (which would alter sounds to achieve new tonalities such as the Dalek voices in the Dr. Who and the Daleks film). An audio sweep oscillator was used for the Joe90 title theme effects. Barry also added a Baldwin Electronic Harpsichord and a Hammond organ, all of which played major roles in Barry's themes for Captain Scarlet, Joe90 and UFO.
For some Gerry Anderson productions, such as Day After Tomorrow and The Investigator, Barry was not brought in as composer, usually because nbc, the American tv network who hired Anderson to produce these films, specified their own composers be used. In the case of The Investigator, Vic Elms, Gerry's own son-in-law, got the job, his music polished by an arranger.
In 1970, Barry moved from London to Guernsey, a small tax haven island in the Channel near the coast of France but part of the United Kingdom. His studio was also taken along and was situated inside a former German bunker some fifteen feet below ground. The electronic effects recorded here were overdubbed on top of the orchestral recordings made in England. SPACE:1999 (1974) proved to be Barry's last film or television music. He composed the first season only, having been ousted along with some cast and crew members when American producer Freddy Feinberger was brought in by the network to give the second season a "new direction" since they were unhappy with the series' first year. British composer Derek Wadsworth was called in to give the second year completely new music.
Since the end of SPACE:1999 and his active involvement in film scoring, Barry devoted himself to hobbies such as drawing, calligraphy (his letters to friends and fans are masterpieces of fine script), even writing and illustrating books on Guernsey. Early in 1979, he was invited to arrange and guest-conduct ten minutes or so of his own music for an annual concert of film music, called Filmharmonic, which benefitted the Cinema Benevolent Fund. Barry accepted and directed a 93-piece orchestra through a special arrangement of music from Doppelgänger and Thunderbirds; the entire presentation was recorded and issued on vinyl in England, Barry's portion of which is the only available recording of much of that music. The Filmharmonic concert was a big success and Barry was surprised to find a large group of people waiting at the backstage door after the performance, seeking signatures. Some of them had even brought collections of old Century 21 mini LP's of his tv themes to sign. Concert organizer Sidney Samuelson was so pleased that he immediately requested that Barry compose the introductory stage show for next year's Film Performance.
At the same time, Barry was asked to compose the Fanfare for the Royal Film Performance of 1980, to be performed by the Coldstream Guards Trumpeteers. Throughout 1981, Barry maintained a close association with Robert Mandell of itc New York, re-arranging and re-dubbing music for the Supermarionation Space Theatre shows which were 90-minute recompilations of episodes of various Supermarionation series from Stingray through SPACE:1999. Other activities included writing a signature theme for International Rescue, a real life rescue operation formed in England with Gerry Anderson as honorary President, and with much the same idea and ideal as the puppet-sized International Rescue from the Thunderbirds series. Barry attended the SPACE:1999 Alliance Conventions in Atlanta, Georgia and Columbus, Ohio and was a main guest at the Fanderson 1982 convention in London during which he played many of his famous themes. He also spent some of his time as resident pianist at the Old Government House Hotel on Guernsey, performing as a labor of love during dinners.
He was to have written the music for the new series Gerry Anderson created which might have brought both of them back into popularity after some years of neglect but Barry's involvement in the project came to a sudden halt with his death on April 26, 1984. What he left behind was a unique and highly-regarded body of work for a very specialized medium, a personal integrity through which he regarded his craft seriously and sensitively, and a warmth which embraced with friendship his many friends, admirers and fans. Barry Gray's contribution to the Anderson series was notable and prototypical, his contribution to film music was equally respectful and worthy of note.