Musical Authors: Edmund Crispin/Bruce Montgomery (1)
Edmund Crispin, whose real name was Bruce Montgomery, was one of the later representatives of what might be considered the “golden age” school of English detective novelists. He wrote a series of crime novels featuring his amateur sleuth, Professor Gervase Fen, which began appearing in the mid-1940s, starting with The Case of The Guilded Fly. Nine volumes appeared between 1944 and 1953. But then there followed a long gap until 1977 when the final Crispin novel, Glimpses of the Moon, was published. Why the silence?

The clues are to be found within the novels themselves. It’s evident from all of them that the author has an interest in music. But two in particular, Frequent Hearses and Swan Song, have a musical backdrop. Swan Song (1947) explores the world of opera during rehearsals for a production of Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nuernberg, while Frequent Hearses is set in a film studio, and includes among the characters Napier, a composer of film music. By 1950, when Frequent Hearses was published, Montgomery was busy elsewhere, also establishing himself as a composer of film music. The best known of these are his scores for the four Doctor in the House series of comedy films, and the first six Carry On films.

“In his concert works,” writes Crispin, “Napier was a somewhat acrid modernist, but like most such composers he unbuttoned, becoming romantic and sentimental when he was writing for films.” In letters to his friend, the composer Geoffrey Bush, Montgomery often complains that writing film scores in order to make money is too hard, taking up all of his time and distracting him from more serious composition. “I’m mortally sick of comedies,” he wrote at one point. He eventually composed the scores for nearly forty films, including documentaries and thrillers. The Carry-On Suite – arranged by David Whittle from the scores of Carry On Sergeant (1958), Carry on Teacher (1959) and Carry On Nurse (1959), provides a representative example, dominated by the main theme, a comedy March. Unfortunately, alcoholism made Montgomery unreliable and he was replaced as the resident composer for Carry On films by Eric Rogers, though the main theme continued to be used.