Born: 22 November, 1939, in Kirkcaldy. Died: 20 November, 2014, in London, aged 74.
Arthur Johnson was a much- respected producer of many renowned Radio 3 programmes and became particularly associated with David Munrow’s defining show called Pied Piper. Johnson produced the programme which did much to further interest in early music and the baroque. Munrow was a pioneer in performing English early music but on Pied Piper he collaborated with Johnson to produce a multi-ethnic, centuries-spanning spread of music. The schedule incorporated music by Monteverdi to the rock band Electric Light Orchestra. It was wonderfully eclectic and, for R3, ground-breaking.
Munrow was acknowledged as a brilliant communicator and Pied Piper was an imaginatively entertaining and educational programme. Much of the credit for that was due to Johnson’s instinctive understanding of what would work over the airwaves. Pied Piper was one of the most successful programmes on the Third Programme and it remained a stalwart of the schedules until Munrow’s untimely death, aged 33, in 1976.
One former BBC colleague confirms Johnson’s devoted professionalism. “Arthur was a total enthusiast” he recalls. “In the studio he was terribly well-organised and efficient. All his programmes, for example, were excellently prepared and thought through. Arthur always got the structure of the programme and the timing spot on. He was a lovely man to work with and a terribly nice man.”
Arthur Johnson’s father worked for McVitie’s Biscuits and he attended St Columba’s High School in Cowdenbeath, where he proved a keen sportsman and showed a considerable talent on the piano. He read Maths and Science at Glasgow but after his first year decided to switch to studying music.
To finance the change Johnson worked as an assistant teacher for two years and then as a lab assistant but continued to study music and practise the piano. In 1963 he was accepted by the Reid School of Music at the Edinburgh College of Art to complete his musical studies.
On graduating he worked briefly for Saga Records and then joined the BBC’s Third Programme in 1968. He had met the pianist Angela Brownridge at the Reid School of Music and he produced several recordings for her at the BBC and on Hyperion. They married in 1968.
Amongst Johnson’s other responsibilities at R3 was Tales and Music for Young Listeners and, on becoming head of documentaries, producing such acclaimed programmes as Record Review and Third Ear.
Johnson was associated with many memorable documentaries which brought a wider appreciation to such composers as Lord Berners, Samuel Barber and Lennox Berkley.
Johnson was involved in a fascinating interview with Lord Acton for R3 in 1983 when he and the author Peter Dickinson visited the art connoisseur in Florence. It was a grand affair – the waiters wore white gloves when serving lunch – but Johnson was able to record a fascinating interview with Acton. He spoke with first-hand knowledge of the art scene in pre-war London and of meetings with Diaghilev, Berners and Graham Greene.
Another acclaimed programme was The Harlequin Years: Music in Paris 1917-29 by Roger Nicholls which captured the musical vitality of Paris in the Roaring Twenties.
But it was the Pied Piper programmes for which Johnson will be rightly remembered. It was their breadth of subjects and their imaginative presentation by Munrow and Johnson that made them special. Subjects ranged from Music of Pageantry and Royal Ceremonial through Chapel Royal and the Collegiate Church of Westminster to the Trombone and its History from Sackbut through Medieval Trumpets.
Many of these programmes had imaginative extra attractions that Johnson included to encourage a younger audience. Poster competitions, for example, were arranged (first prize £10) for “an introduction to Elgar’s Enigma Variations”.
R3 relayed a special programme devoted to the life of Munrow in 1976. It was produced, with much care and love by Johnson who recalled the early days of Pied Piper being “exhausting and exhilarating”.
Amongst the awards Johnson received were a Sony for the programme on Lord Berners (1983) and the Prix Musical de Brno for Mozart in Prague (1990).
Johnson never lost his Fife accent nor his love of Scotland. He also maintained a keen interest in sport, especially cricket, golf, skiing and cycling, and, after his retirement from the BBC in 1991, he took much pleasure in composing.
He did not enjoy the best of health in his last years and a son predeceased him. Johnson is survived by his wife.