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Malcolm Arnold

In the second of a two-part special the South Bank Show reveals the extraordinary story of Malcolm Arnold.

The last survivor of a generation of great British composers who dominated the musical landscape in the last half of the twentieth century.

Arnold’s phenomenal success as one of the world’s leading composers endured a catalogue of tragedies that recurrently plagued his personal life – frequent mental breakdowns, alcoholism, erratic, irascible and unpredictable behaviour, electric shock therapy, attempted suicides, to name a few.

Nothing prevented this genius from writing in excess of 500 works including over 120 film scores and nine monumental symphonies.

Tony Palmer’s two part South Bank Show celebrates one of Britain’s largely underestimated, yet most popular composers and the triumph of a man against all the odds.

Arnold’s nine symphonies form the backbone of this film which includes extracts from some of his many movies and performances along with a moving interview with the 83 year-old himself.

Palmer also revisits old friends and family members who talk candidly about Arnold’s life successes and failures.

Now retired and extremely frail, Arnold has lived of late in virtual seclusion in Norfolk for several years with his friend, Anthony Day, who has devoted his life to providing around the clock care.

Arnold’s early years were greatly inspired by Louis Armstrong and he rapidly became the finest trumpet player in the land, earning the position of principal trumpet player in the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

It was not long before compositions proliferated from his pen including works for brass bands, The Royal Ballet and countless film scores, notably Bridge on the River Kwai and The Belles of St. Trinians.

Arnold gained a reputation for being the fastest writer ever.

His colleague, Alan Rawsthorne, once said "Malcolm writes music quicker than it takes the ink to dry".

He also famously assisted in the brilliant orchestration of Jon Lord’s Deep Purple: Concerto For Group and Orchestra.

"The pursuit of happiness if not my aim. I just want to lead a useful life and occasionally write a piece of music.

"After all, music is a social act of communication among people, a gesture of friendship – the strongest there is", says Arnold.

Additional contributors include Rick Stein, one of Arnold’s close friends, Tim Rice, Jon Lord from Deep Purple, Julian Bream, James Galway, Haley Mills, Stan Hibbert, Richard Attenborough, Julian Lloyd-Webber, his biographer Paul Jackson and John Amis, as well as his children.

The story concludes on Sunday 3rd October.

Directed & Edited by Tony Palmer
Produced by June McFarlane
Co-produced by Granada Television, RTÉ and Isolde Films
Executive Produced by Melvyn Bragg & Kevin Dawson

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