Monty Norman – the composer who wrote the main guitar riff for the iconic Bond theme – has died aged 94.
“It is with great sadness we share the news that Monty Norman died on July 11 after a short illness,” a statement on his official website (opens in new tab) reads.
The child of Latvian immigrants, Norman was born Monty Noserovitch in Stepney, East London on April 4, 1928. His mother, Annie, bought him his first guitar at the age of 16.
He went on to enjoy an illustrious music career, singing in big bands in the ‘50s and early ‘60s for the likes of Cyril Stapleton, Stanley Black and Ted Heath and later composing for West End shows including Expresso Bongo and Irma La Douce, before foraying into the world of film.
Norman’s most notable work – the James Bond theme – came about after Bond producer Cubby Broccoli commissioned him to compose the score for the franchise’s first outing, Dr. No.
The melody for the now-iconic theme was actually from a previous composition of Norman’s: Bad Sign, Good Sign, originally written for an abandoned production of VS Naipaul’s A House for Mr. Biswas.
For it to work with the character of 007, Norman had the riff – previously played with a sitar – played on electric guitar, instead.
Norman said the sitar give it the wrong feel but the notes could work. “I got the idea of splitting the notes and putting them to a guitar,” he said. “From that moment I was sure I had the right James Bond sound: absolutely positive.”
Vic Flick, a 25-year-old studio guitarist, was the man who eventually tracked Norman's riff on guitar.
Norman later recalled: “[Bond's] sexiness, his mystery, his ruthlessness – it’s all there in a few notes.”
John Barry – who later composed music for 11 Bond films – arranged Norman’s theme for Dr. No, leading to a common misconception that it was he who wrote the original Bond theme.
In 2001, Monty Norman took The Sunday Times to court over an article that stated he had not composed the classic guitar line. He subsequently won, and was awarded £30,000 in libel damages and costs around £500,000.
John Barry died in 2011, and the pair never made amends. Once asked if he had any regrets about their relationship, Norman said, “None whatsoever. I did not like him,” adding: “I’m very proud and delighted that I am the man who wrote the James Bond theme.”
Other notable highlights of Norman’s career include The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll (1960), The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961), Call Me Bwana (1963) and TV miniseries Dickens of London (1976).