George Fenton

George Fenton

George Fenton in 1969
Born George Richard Ian Howe
(1950-10-19) 19 October 1950
London, England

George Fenton (born George Richard Ian Howe; 19 October 1950)[1] is an English composer best known for his work writing film scores and music for television such as for the BBC series The Blue Planet and Planet Earth.

Early career

Fenton was born in London[1] and attended St Edward's School in Oxford where "he learnt his music" from Peter Whitehouse.[2] He has no further formal training in music.[3] Fenton's involvement with St Edward's continued as an adult and he has been a governor of the school since 1998.[2]

Initially Fenton worked as an actor, getting an early break in 1968 with a part in Alan Bennett's first West End play Forty Years On.[4][5] He had some success as an actor in the early 1970s appearing in the film Private Road, in Alan Bennett's first television play A Day Out directed by Stephen Frears, and in the soap opera Emmerdale Farm.[1]

In 1969 Fenton tried his hand as a recording artist with a cover of The Beatles song Maxwell's Silver Hammer[6][7] and recorded piano for the folk group The Peelers on their Polydor LP "Banished Misfortune". In 1973 he dabbled in band management helping to get the folk-rock band Hunter Muskett a recording contract with Bradley's Records.

While working as an actor Fenton was frequently asked by directors to play an instrument and he decided on a career switch to composing music.[5]


In 1974 Fenton received his first major commission, as composer and musical director for Peter Gill's theatre production of Twelfth Night by the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon.[5]

Throughout the rest of the 1970s and early 1980s Fenton worked frequently as a composer for theatre productions.[8][9] He continued to collaborate regularly with Peter Gill. Between 1974 and 1981 Fenton composed for 9 of Gill's productions; 4 of these were at the Riverside Studios theatre where Gill was appointed artistic director in 1976,[10] while the following 3 were at the National Theatre after Gill became Associate Director in 1980.[11]

During this period Fenton also worked regularly at the Belgrade Theatre, composing for 3 of their productions in 1976 and another 3 in 1978, and in 1981 he collaborated with Adrian Noble on 3 productions at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester.[8][9]

He continued to work with the prestigious Royal Shakespeare Company composing for 4 of their productions between 1981 and 1985, working again with Adrian Noble on Anthony and Cleopatra in 1982, and most recently with Othello in 1999 directed by Michael Attenborough.[8][9]

Since the mid 1980s Fenton's theatre work has become sporadic, just 7 productions since 1987,[8][9] as opposed to over 100 television and film scores.[1] From time to time he still composes for the theatre, often when working with long term collaborators such as Richard Eyre (The Judas Kiss, 1998 and Last Cigarette, 2009), and Nicholas Hytner (Untold Stories, 2013, based on Alan Bennett's autobiographical work of the same name). His most unusual theatre work occurred in 1992 when he wrote the music for Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, a dinner theater show at Disneyland Paris[8][9] which The New York Times described as a "fake-rodeo-cum-dinner-theater" and the "indisputable highlight in the live performance category".[12]

In 2015, he teamed up with Simon Chamberlin, to compose the music for Mrs Henderson Presents, with lyrics by Don Black,.[13][14]

Television drama

Fenton wrote his first television score in 1976.[15] This was a continuation of his collaboration with Peter Gill and it was for Gill's production of Hitting Town written by Stephen Poliakoff.

By the late 1970s Fenton was working regularly in television, becoming a popular choice of composer for dozens of television productions. These included Shoestring, a BBC police drama which ran for 21 episodes in 1979-1980, and Bergerac,[16] which ran for a decade from 1981-1991, and for which he won a BAFTA in 1982.

He composed the music for all six of the LWT television plays by Alan Bennett, which were broadcast during 1978 and 1979 and are collectively known as Six Plays by Alan Bennett.[17] Their collaboration continued with the TV series Objects of Affection in 1982. A year later he composed the score of Bennett's TV film An Englishman Abroad (1983) which was directed by John Schlesinger. Fenton also composed for all of the episodes of Bennett's highly acclaimed Talking Heads series in 1988 and, a decade later, Talking Heads 2 in 1998.

During this period Fenton also frequently collaborated with the director Stephen Frears, composing for his television productions of Bloody Kids (1980), Going Gently (1981), Walter (1982) and Saigon: Year of the Cat (1983).

By the mid-1980s Fenton was composing for big budget TV series including the multi BAFTA winning The Jewel in the Crown (1984) and The Monocled Mutineer (1986).

Wildlife television

Fenton has composed for a number of notable wildlife television programmes, often collaborating with the wildlife broadcaster David Attenborough and nature documentary filmmaker Alastair Fothergill. He started on the BBC's long-running series Wildlife on One and Natural World, and continued with specials such as Polar Bear.

He has spoken of how much he likes composing for wildlife programmes. In 2012 he said with reference to The Blue Planet: "The minute I heard the title I was sold. I just thought it was so great that I turned down the offer of doing another film in the States and flew straight back home."[18]

Since 1990 he has written the music for a number of acclaimed big budget wildlife series.[19]

His track record in this genre has placed him firmly as the BBC's composer of choice for its flagship wildlife programmes.[20]

Television and radio jingles

Fenton has composed the jingles or theme music to dozens of British television and radio programs, mostly for the BBC.[5] Some of these are; the BBC's One O'Clock News, Six O'Clock News, and Nine O'Clock News, Newsnight and Newsnight Review, On the Record, Omnibus, BBC Breakfast Time, BBC World Service Television News, Westminster - In The House, Reporting Scotland, London Plus, Midday News, Telly Addicts and Daily Politics. For the radio, he composed the old theme for BBC Radio 4's PM programme.[21]

Feature films

George Fenton is best known as a composer of film scores. He has written the music for over one hundred feature films and has collaborated with some of the most influential film makers of the late 20th century.[22]

Together with Michael Feast and David Dundas he co-wrote the music for Private Road (1971), a film he and Feast also starred in.

His film scoring as a professional composer began in 1982[22] with Richard Attenborough's biopic Gandhi for which he was nominated with his collaborator, Ravi Shankar for the Academy Award for Original Music Score. Fenton's career as a composer of film scores owes a debt of gratitude to Attenborough's asking him to compose for Gandhi.[23] Fenton said of him in a 2014 interview: "He always made me feel incredibly secure with what he was doing. He loves music, and he’s very musical."[23] Fenton wrote another four film scores for Attenborough's films; Cry Freedom (1987), Shadowlands (1993), In Love and War (1996), and Grey Owl (1999).[23]

He has also frequently worked with the theatre and film director Nicholas Hytner, writing the score for all six of the movies that Hytner has directed. These are: The Madness of King George (1994), The Crucible (1996), The Object of My Affection (1998), Center Stage (2000), The History Boys (2006), and The Lady in the Van (2015). The latter three of these allowed Fenton to collaborate once again with their writer Alan Bennett. It should be noted that, while Fenton composed the original music of five of these films, for The Madness of King George he instead adapted and arranged the music of Handel.[24]

Fenton's long-standing collaboration with Stephen Frears has not been limited to television productions. Fenton has scored four of Frear's feature films: Dangerous Liaisons (1988), Hero (1992), Mary Reilly (1996), and Mrs Henderson Presents (2005). He has also worked with director Neil Jordan; scoring The Company of Wolves (1984), High Spirits (1988), and We're No Angels (1989).

Fenton has scored more feature films for Ken Loach than for any other filmmaker; by 2015, a total of fourteen. This started in 1994 with Ladybird, Ladybird; then, in chronological order: Land and Freedom (1995), Carla's Song (1996), My Name Is Joe (1998), Bread and Roses (2000), The Navigators (2001), Sweet Sixteen (2002), Ae Fond Kiss... (2004), The Wind That Shakes the Barley (2006) which won the Palme d'Or at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival, It's a Free World... (2007), Looking for Eric (2009), The Angels' Share (2012), the documentary film The Spirit of '45 (2013), and, most recently, Jimmy's Hall (2014).

Fenton has developed other long-standing collaborations with filmmakers, scoring several films each for directors as diverse as: Harold Ramis, Nora Ephron, Phil Joanou, Andy Tennant, and many others. These include Hussy (1980), Runners (1983), Clockwise (1986), 84 Charing Cross Road (1987), White Mischief (1988), A Handful of Dust (1988), The Dressmaker (1988), Memphis Belle (1990), The Long Walk Home (1990), The Fisher King (1991), Final Analysis (1992), Groundhog Day (1993), Born Yesterday (1993), Mixed Nuts (1994), Heaven's Prisoners (1996), Multiplicity (1996), You've Got Mail (1998), Anna and the King (1999), Bewitched (2005), Fool's Gold (2008), and The Bounty Hunter (2010).

Awards and nominations

Academy Awards

BAFTA Awards

Emmy Awards

Golden Globes

Grammy Awards

Ivor Novello Awards

Film & TV Music Awards


Fenton founded the Association of Professional Composers which later amalgamated with the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors and with the Composers' Guild of Great Britain to become the British Academy of Composers & Songwriters. He is a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and is a visiting professor at the Royal College of Music and the University of Nottingham.

He composed the score for "Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show" a dinner show recreating the experience of the famous world travelling show of Buffalo Bill. The dinner show was created exclusively for the Disneyland Resort Paris and opened together with the resort (then EuroDisney Resort) on 12 April 1992. A recording was released by Walt Disney Records/Sony Records in France but is long out of print.


  1. 1 2 3 4 George Fenton, IMDb, retrieved 2015-12-16
  2. 1 2 St Edward's Oxford - Governors,, retrieved 2015-12-16
  3. "Frozen Planet Composer Comes to Ballymena". Retrieved 2015-12-16.
  4. "Hymn". Retrieved 2015-12-16.
  5. 1 2 3 4 George Fenton, Desert Island Discs - BBC Radio 4, BBC, retrieved 2015-12-16
  6. "George Howe – Maxwell's Silver Hammer". Retrieved 2015-12-16.
  7. "GEORGE HOWE - Maxwell's Silver Hammer (1969) - Beatles cover". Retrieved 2015-12-16.
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 Recordings :: George Fenton,, retrieved 2015-12-18
  9. 1 2 3 4 5 Eaton Music - George Fenton, Theatre Credits,, retrieved 2015-12-18
  10. "Riverside Studios - Our History". Retrieved 2015-12-18.
  11. "The people's playwright". The Guardian Newspaper. Retrieved 2015-12-18.
  12. "CULTURAL VIEW; At Euro Disney, Mickey Mouse Takes a Back Seat". The New York Times. 1992-12-06. Retrieved 2015-12-18.
  13. "Mrs Henderson Presents at Theatre Royal, Bath". The Times. 27 August 2015. Retrieved 23 January 2016.
  14. "Stage Version of Mrs. Henderson Presents Will Premiere in Summer 2015". Playbill. 17 October 2014. Retrieved 8 September 2015.
  15. "Stephen Poliakoff On Hitting Town". 2013-09-06. Retrieved 2015-12-15.
  16. Stoner, David (August 5, 2013), George Fenton on the Company of Wolves, CinemaScore
  17. "Bennett, Alan (1934-)". Retrieved 2015-12-15.
  18. "Acclaimed composer George Fenton on why he likes it when no one remembers his music". 2012-09-07. Retrieved 2015-12-15.
  19. "George Fenton brings his acclaimed score for The Blue Planet to London for one-off Live Show". BBC. 2014-11-08. Retrieved 2015-12-15.
  20. "George Fenton - films spanning the Atlantic". Retrieved 2015-12-15.
  21. "How writing PM theme made composer 'very nervous'". Retrieved 2016-02-29.
  22. 1 2 Film Scores,, retrieved 2015-12-15
  23. 1 2 3 Greiving, Tim (2014-01-21), The Music of Shadowlands: A 20th Anniversary Interview with George Fenton, Tim Greiving, retrieved 2015-12-15
  24. "The Madness of King George (1994)". IMDb. Retrieved 2015-12-15.

External links

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