Sunday 21 January 2018

Harry Rabinowitz

Conductor and composer for film and television whose career was saved by the 'Carry On' actor Sid James

IN TUNE: Harry Rabinowitz master of TV and film scores.
IN TUNE: Harry Rabinowitz master of TV and film scores.

Harry Rabinowitz, who has died aged 100, was the original conductor for Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical Cats; he also arranged the first theme tune for Top of the Pops in 1964 and oversaw the British entries to the Eurovision Song Contest.

He was involved to varying degrees in the music for dozens of films, including Chariots of Fire (1981), Shirley Valentine (1989) and The English Patient (1996).

"Exploiting sentiment" in the music was the key to winning listeners' hearts, he said. His success in doing so was recognised when he was invited to conduct the 35th anniversary celebrations of the film company Merchant Ivory at Carnegie Hall in September 1996. Gracie Fields, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Barbra Streisand were among the household names to benefit from his musical talents, which, he claimed, included being able to master a new score in half the time it took his contemporaries.

Rabinowitz would tell how his career had been saved in the early 1950s by Sid James, the star of the Carry On films with whom he had served in the South African Army and who had been his best man in 1944. Rabinowitz had come to Britain from South Africa after the war to study music, but his career had been in the doldrums until the pair met by chance in London.

James was by now well established in Britain and marched Rabinowitz straight into the office of Jack Hylton, the bandleader and impresario, from where he emerged with a contract in his hand. As he told Kirsty Young on Desert Island Discs in 2015: "Life began again after 17 minutes."

Harr y Rabinowitz was born in Johannesburg on March 26 1916, the eldest of three sons of Israel and Eva Rabinowitz.

Young Harry started learning the piano from the age of nine. His first job was selling jewellery, but he was fired after only 24 hours. He joined the South African Broadcasting Company and was assigned to play the piano for George Black's musical Strike a New Note. During one performance he noticed a discrepancy in timing between the singers on stage and the musicians in the pit.

Grabbing a rolled-up newspaper, he quickly brought actors and orchestra together, later declaring that this occasion marked the start of his conducting career.

He joined the BBC in 1953 as a staff conductor, directing the BBC Revue Orchestra in concerts of light music and in variety shows.

He moved to television in 1960, conducting televised musicals, composing for programmes, as well as being involved in the UK's Eurovision entries. In 1968 he moved to London Weekend Television, w here his musical credits included Frost on Sunday, Upstairs Downstairs, Black Beauty and The Larry Grayson Show.

By 1977, Rabinowitz had built up a substantial freelance career, composing and conducting film music, arranging scores and directing concerts. His many other film credits include Lord of the Flies (1990), The Remains of the Day (1993) and The Talented Mr Ripley (1999).

In 1944 he married Lorna Thurlow Anderson, with whom he had a son and two daughters. That marriage was dissolved and in 2001 he married Mitzi Scott.

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