RIP: Monty Norman, writer of the James Bond theme

promo poster for Dr No

RIP: Monty Norman, writer of the James Bond theme

RIP Monty Norman, probably the least-known of the best-known writers for film and screen. Chances are that you don’t remember the musicals “Expresso Bongo” or “Make me an Offer”. But there is practically nobody in the world that has not heard the James Bond theme from “Dr No”.

Monty Norman died on July 11, 2022 at the age of 94. He had been a successful composer and occasional lyricist for the West End before “Cubby” Broccoli asked him to write a theme for a spy book he had just decided to bring to the screen in 1962 with Harry Saltzman. Norman was busy writing another new musical, but was tempted by a trip to Jamaica to work on James Bond. If nothing, he would get a free holiday.

Being an old pro, he decided to poke around in his “bottom drawer” to see if he had anything that could be adapted. He came across “Good Sign, Bad Sign” from an abandoned musical with Indian influences. He adapted the sitar-theme to a twangy 60’s guitar and hey presto, we have the James Bond theme.

The original is an embarrassing comedy pastiche; the resulting theme is a masterpiece.

“Nobody argues over a flop”

The runaway success of the movie and its brilliant, striking theme song quickly generated rumours. Monty Norman had to go to court several times to defend his authorship of the songs and even the guitar lick. As Norman himself has said, “Nobody argues over a flop”.

What is true is that the theme was magnificently arranged by John Barry, who gave it that extra sense of drama. Barry went on to become a regular Bond composer, and the original theme is often – wrongly – considered to be his work.

Norman did go on to work one more time on a movie with the Broccoli/Salzman production team, on Bob Hope’s “Call me Bwana”. As he told it on his website, By the end of the film, I still didn’t have a contract from Harry [Saltzman] who was the film’s main producer. I said “Look Harry, I’ve done all the work. Bob and everyone is pleased with it. Isn’t it time we talked money?” And in a line as good as any Sam Goldwyn ever uttered, he said, “Monty, if you wanna talk money we can’t do business!” In the end I got my Bob Hope contract but I didn’t get any Bond films after that!’

Click here for lyrics written by Michael Leahy