Monty Norman, whose iconic James Bond theme song found the perfect balance between imminent danger and unflappable cool, is dead at 94.
According to a statement on his his official website, “It is with sadness we share the news that Monty Norman died on 11th July 2022 after a short illness.”
Born in London on April 4th, 1928, Norman was already an accomplished musical theater composer, with several hit musicals under his belt before he became entangled with Britain’s greatest fictional spy. He wrote the English lyrics for the long-running French musical Irma La Douce, the music for Expresso Bongo (which Time Out called “the first Rock-n-Roll musical”), lyrics for Make Me an Offer (which won the Evening Standard Award for Best Musical), and helped write The Art of Living.
Those successes led to a meeting with Alfred Broccoli, who financed his new musical Belle or The Ballad of Doctor Crippen. The show flopped, but Broccoli had other plans for Norman.
“Cubby Broccoli rang me,’ Monty recalled on his website, “and asked me to come to his office to meet his new partner. He said they had just acquired the rights to Ian Flemming’s James Bond novels and were going to turn them into films. The first one was going to be Dr. No and would I like to do the score?”
Broccoli flew him out to Jamaica, where he wrote “Kingston Calypso,” “Jump Up ”and other songs from the film. He said that the impetus for “Underneath the Mango Tree” came after he and Broccoli watched Ursula Andress emerge from the water in a now-famous scene. “The James Bond Theme” only came about later, after months of struggle.
It also needed an exciting arrangement. According to Norman, “We recognized we needed a fresh, contemporary sound for the main theme, and in the up-and-coming young John Barry we found a wonderful arranger, so the whole thing worked very well.” But decades later, Barry claimed that he had personally authored the theme, and when the Times of London printed a story suggesting as much, it led to a contentious libel lawsuit. In 2001, a UK court awarded Norman £30,000 plus court fees.
Norman’s music career began at the age of 16, when his mother succesfully haggled the price of a guitar down to £15 from £17. He sang in Big Bands in the 1950s and ’60s, composed music for Bob Hope among others, and in 1979, his musical The Moony Shapiro Songbook became one of the biggest hits of his career, earning him an Olivier Award for Best New Musical. Check out a selection of his James Bond songs below.