Brian Fahey

Musician, composer and musical director

Born: 25 April, 1919, in Margate, Kent.

Died: 4 April, 2007, in Worthing, West Sussex, aged 87.

BRIAN Fahey, one of Britain's foremost arrangers and composers of big-band music, worked with many of the country's leading stars including Dame Shirley Bassey. He was in fact Miss Bassey's musical director from 1967-72. He was also a close friend of Ella Fitzgerald, whose birthday he shared.

His most famous and commercially successful work is the iconic At The Sign Of The Swingin' Cymbal, adopted by the late DJ Alan Freeman as the theme tune for his Pick Of The Pops programme. Fahey claimed he had penned the tune - originally intended as a B-side - in 15 minutes.

He also wrote the international hit The Creep for the Ken Mackintosh Band, and his Fanfare Boogie, written for the Eric Winstone Band, was nominated for an Ivor Novello award in 1955.

Fahey, the son of a musician, was educated at Colfe's Grammar School in south London, where he learned piano and cello. As a teenager he became interested in arranging and composing big band music and jazz. On leaving school, Fahey worked as a clerk with a leather company in east London.

Following the outbreak of the Second World War, Fahey, as a territorial soldier, was drafted into the regular army, serving on the front line at Dunkirk with the Royal Artillery.

Lance-Bombardier Fahey was captured by German troops

after sustaining a leg wound. He was herded into a barn near the village of Wormhoudt along with 120 other soldiers before German troops encircled the building and tossed hand grenades in among their captives. The Nazis then began a systematic slaughter of their British counterparts, lining them up in groups of five and shooting each man in turn.

Fahey later recalled that his mind was filled with half-remembered sights and sounds of the cricket nets at Colfe's and the smells of his uncle's marine store at Margate in the second before a bullet tore into his chest, knocking him to the ground unconscious.

When he came round four hours later, at 4pm, he was aware of pains in his chest and leg. He remembered: "The thought gradually came to me that I was not dead. It was raining heavily and I somehow managed to crawl 20 yards to find shelter, an excruciatingly painful journey that took me three hours."

He had broken ribs and a perforated lung and could not move his left leg.

Having abandoned their method of shooting the captives as too slow, the Germans had fired machine-guns until there was no movement, then left. But 15 men survived the massacre.

However, some succumbed to their terrible wounds and, 48 hours later, just six of the captives remained alive. The arrival of further German soldiers did not bode well. But the shocked commanding officer was quick to provide medical care.

He explained that the group had originally been captured by SS troops.

Following five years' captivity in various German PoW camps, during which time he perfected his musical skills, Fahey was demobbed in 1946, whereupon he joined the Musicians' Union and became a member of the Rudy Starita Band as pianist for an ENSA Tour of Egypt and Palestine.

It was while on tour that Fahey met and fell in love with singer Audrey Watkins, whom he married that year. The couple had six children, three sons and three daughters.

Following the ENSA Tour, Fahey played in various bands. But his passion was for arranging and he worked for music publishers Chappells and Cinephonic Music from 1949-59, specialising in arrangements for singers, bands and orchestras, mainly for radio.

Fahey next worked as a freelance, forming lasting associations with several major recording companies and the BBC. He subsequently wrote film scores and ventured into theatre.

At the same time, US arrangers Billy May and Nelson Riddle, close friends of the composer, tried to persuade Fahey to emigrate to the United States, but he turned down several lucrative contracts rather than disrupt his family life.

Following his spell as Miss Bassey's musical director - a role that took him to most parts of the world - Fahey was invited to become principal conductor of the BBC Scottish Radio Orchestra in 1972, a position he held for nine years, during which time the family moved from Purley, Surrey, to the Ayrshire village of Skelmorlie.

Fahey, who won many awards, including, in 1997, the MU/BBC Arranging Award, continued to work for the BBC following the disbandment of the SRO in 1981 and was a guest conductor with many orchestras throughout the world.

Awarded a gold card by the Musicians' Union in 1988 and a BASCA gold badge of merit three years later, Fahey continued to pursue his love of composing in retirement. He was also an avid cricket and football fan and a staunch follower of Arsenal Football Club.

Following the loss of his wife of 60 years last November, a month after the couple had celebrated their diamond wedding anniversary, Fahey went to live with his eldest son, Michael, at his home in Worthing.

Brian Fahey is survived by his six children, 13 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

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