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Ron Grainer was an Australian composer mostly remembered for his musical work in film and television music, especially the theme music for "Doctor Who," "The Prisoner" and "Tales of the Unexpected."
He was born Ronald Erie Grainer on August 11, 1922 in Atherton, Australia, the first child of Margaret Clark, an amateur pianist, and Ronald Albert Grainer, a storekeeper and postmaster. For the first eight years of his life, he and his family lived in Mountt Mulligan, a small coal-mining town 100 kilometers west of Cairns seemingly isolated from civilization where the miners spent the remoteness in the local taverns.
Grainer was taught to play the piano by the age of four by his mother. A Welsh miner also introduced him to the violin. As his music skills developed, he started demonstrating an ability to reconstruct tunes he had heard at school or on gramophone records. His family left Mount Mulligan in 1930 and were living in Aloomba, a sugar-growing rural community on the Far North Queensland coast by 1932. As part of the Aloomba school team, he won second prize for solo violin at the inaugural Cairns and District School Eisteddfod. He later moved to Cairns, where he commenced a serious study of music theory and interpretation, before relocating south to Brisbane in 1937, where he completed his secondary school education at St Joseph's College in Nudgee. He enrolled at the University of Queensland in 1939 to study civil engineering and music, a course taught by classical musician Percy Brier, a traditionalist educator who encouraged his more talented students to think for themselves. Grainer gained his Associate of Trinity College London Diploma on piano.
Grainer joined the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) in December 1940 after the start of World War Two and was sent to Amberley, Queensland where he worked in radar before transferring to the RAAF entertainment unit. He had only a few months performing for his fellow airmen before he was injured by an oil drum on July 1944 and admitted to the 3 RAAF Hospital where he eventually recovered. He was discharged from the RAAF on September 1945, later turning up in the New South Wales State Conservatorium of Music, where he studied under Eugene Goossens. Grainer received his teaching and performing diploma for pianoforte in December 1949 and began appearing in a series of solo artist radio shows for the Australian Broadcasting Commission from 1950 to 1951. His presentation of Delius, Faure, and Milhaud compositions on piano with Don Scott on violin was ridiculed in a newspaper review, and he abandoned his classical repertoire and live concert work with such a determined change of attitude that he claimed in a 1964 magazine interview that he had "always loathed performing."
Grainer left Australia in 1952 for London with his wife Margot and 10-year-old stepdaughter Rel. He managed to find a three-month engagement playing piano in a nightclub along with other occasional jobs, the worst of which became a twelve-month stint with a touring Australian comedy act called "The Allen Brothers and June." This required the classically trained Grainer to be hit on the head nightly by a falling grand piano lid and then to topple over into the orchestra pit, an experience he later said was even harder to do than a day's fencing in the Australian outback. To pay the rent on their room, he and his wife had to work as caretakers of a large block of London flats where he stoked two large boilers, morning and night, whilst Margot washed stairs and cleaned rooms. He tried to gain exposure with two attempts at song contests: “England's Made of Us” in 1956 with an entry with lyricist David Dearlove for the First British Festival of Popular Song, which received the score of no points from the judges and, the following year, "Don't Cry Little Doll," which was also written with David Dearlove, which reached fourth place in the British Eurovision entry decider heats. Most of his dramatic pre-success music involvement was with "Before The Sun Goes Down," a TV play which caused audience panic and questions to be raised in the British Parliament when it was shown on February 20, 1959. Taking inspiration from Orson Welles' 1938 radio drama of "The War of the Worlds," the production used a similar format in which a regular program broadcast was interrupted by a fake public service announcement. In this instance it was about a mysterious and "terrifying" satellite seen hovering over the city of London.
In 1960 Grainer achieved public recognition with his theme and incidental music for the TV series "Maigret," which was given the Ivor Novello “Outstanding Composition for Film, TV or Radio” award in 1961. The award garnered him commissions from TV shows as far-flung fron "Comedy Playhouse" to "The Prisoner" to Benny Hill's 60s comedy series to "Doctor Who." He also worked with the instrumental group The Eagles, who recorded a number of his themes. However, his work commitments eventually contributed to the breakdown of his marriage, and he and Margot divorced in 1966. Later that year, he married Jennifer Dodds, a member of the cast of "Robert and Elizabeth." Their son, Damian, was born shortly afterwards. He moved out of London for Portugal in 1968 where he and Jenny started a farm growing organic fruit and vegetables, undertaking the planting and maintaining of 1,000 peach trees, but they moved back to London in April 1974 after the Carnation Revolution had prompted him and his family to return to England. They divorced in 1976 with Grainer staying in London and Jenny returning to Portugal.
Over the next five years, Grainer had a second round of creativity, achieving respect with the Emmy and BAFTA award-winning miniseries "Edward & Mrs Simpson" and the well-received scores for "Tales of the Unexpected" in 1979 and "Rebecca" in 1979. He won the 1980 Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Television Episode for an episode of "Tales of the Unexpected," a series lampooned by Benny Hill on May 1, 1989. He passed away from a spinal tumor in his Cuckfield, England home on February 21, 1981.