Edwin Astley

Edwin Thomas Astley (12 April 1922 - 19 May 1998) was a British composer. His best known works are British television themes and scores, most notably the theme to The Saint, and Danger Man. He also successfully diversified into symphonic pop and an arrangement of his Saint theme reached number three in the UK Singles Chart when it was re recorded by Orbital.

Edwin Astley
BornEdwin Thomas Astley
(1922-04-12)12 April 1922
Died19 May 1998(1998-05-19) (aged 76)

Personal life and family

Astley was born in Warrington, Lancashire to Lawrence Astley and Mary Alice Pester. He served in the Second World War as a musician in the Royal Army Service Corps band playing saxophone and clarinet for the troops.[1]

Astley married Hazel Balbirnie in 1945.[2] Their eldest daughter Karen Astley married Pete Townshend of The Who,[3] and their son Jon Astley produced and remastered The Who's reissues. Daughter Virginia Astley is a singer-songwriter.[4]


In the early 1950s Astley was arranging for Geraldo. His song "I Could Never Tell" was written by Edwin and Billy Bowen as an entry into a song writing contest when they were both serving in the army. Edwin won the prize of £250 and later used this money to pay for his wedding to Hazel Balbirnie. "I Could Never Tell" was later recorded by both Vera Lynn and Richard Tauber.[4]

His own band, the Ted Astley Orchestra, became well known in the north of England,[4] and he wrote songs for performers such as Anne Shelton.[3][4]

He wrote music for many British television series of the 1950s and 1960s, including incidental music for The Champions, and the title music to The Adventures of Robin Hood (but not the famous closing theme song), Danger Man (known as Secret Agent in the USA, where his theme music was replaced by a theme with lyrics),[3] Department S, Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), The Saint, Gideon's Way and The Baron. Most of these programmes were made by ITC Entertainment.[3]

Astley also wrote the orchestral and "opera" score for the Hammer Films version of The Phantom Of The Opera (1962).

Astley wrote two arrangements of his own theme for The Saint, a slow version used in the black and white episodes and a more up-tempo arrangement of the same theme for the colour episodes. He then wrote a second theme, used in the second season of the colour episodes, based around Leslie Charteris' own theme music, which had previously been used in films and on radio. Charteris' theme would also open the theme to Return of the Saint and would close the theme to the TV movies of The Saint which starred Simon Dutton (neither of which were composed by Astley); however, Astley's original Saint theme was chosen for the film of the same name.

Astley also wrote two themes for Danger Man one for the 30-minute series transmitted from 1960 to 1962 entitled "The Danger Man Theme", and a new theme for the 60 minute series (1964–68) entitled "High Wire". Astley was asked to write music for The Prisoner, but had to withdraw because he felt that he would be unable to create Patrick McGoohan's vision for the score due to McGoohan being too busy to hold meetings with him.[5]

However, Astley showed his diversity by writing the music for Sir Kenneth Clark's BBC documentary series Civilisation (1969),[3] and scoring several British Transport Films including Diesel Train Ride (1959), Broad Waterways (1959/60) and The Signal Engineers (1962).

In 1997 Astley found himself at number five on the pop charts as composer of "The Saint", 33 years after he wrote it, which had been revived by Orbital for the new Saint movie.[3] His last work was a 1998 symphonic interpretation of Who music called Who's Serious: The Symphonic Music of the Who, which followed 1995's Symphonic Music of the Rolling Stones.[6]


Astley's actual recorded output is quite sparse, consisting of a few singles and albums of the music from The Saint and Danger Man. These were only available in the United States until 1997 when he arranged for CDs to be issued in the UK, where the albums were expensive collectors' items. Other recordings included the soundtrack for International Detective, a few library records which were only semi-official and a series of albums made by the London Symphony Orchestra which featured his work.

Recently the complete recordings of the score to Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) was released by Network DVD in the UK. The three disc box-set featured over two hundred recorded music cues from the series, and a book detailing the music production.[7]

In 1977, Astley wrote the orchestral score for Street in the City, a song contained in the Pete Townshend and Ronnie Lane's album Rough Mix.

Death and legacy

Astley retired in the late 1970s, and died in 1998.[3]

Although Astley's themes had introduced a number of highly popular television shows, recognition of his death was limited to brief obituaries in The Times and The Independent.[8] However, tributes later appeared on television and in print.

In 2001 Jools Holland presented a television tribute called Astley's Way.[2] Holland had recorded the Danger Man theme earlier, and he appeared with Jools Holland's Rhythm and Blues Orchestra to play "High Wire", plus various other themes and incidental music composed by Astley. The documentary also included interviews with his widow, son Jon, daughter Virginia and son-in-law Pete Townshend.[4]

The Autumn 2005 edition of Action TV provided a twelve-page feature on Astley, including an interview, photos, a discography and a filmography.

Selected filmography



  1. Eder, Bruce. "Edwin T. Astley, biography". allmovie.com. Archived from the original on 26 April 2006. Retrieved 2008-04-15.
  2. "Edwin Astley Biography". IMDb. Retrieved 15 April 2008.
  3. "Edwin Astley Biography". BFI. Retrieved 15 April 2008.
  4. Virginia Astley. "News, 24th November 2001". virginiaastley.com. Archived from the original on 13 March 2008. Retrieved 15 April 2008.
  5. Hall, Larry; Volkman, Victor R. "Edwin Astley the one that got away". The Prisoner Music Archive. Archived from the original on 9 May 2008. Retrieved 18 May 2008.
  6. Chris Well. "Mystery TV Themes:The Saint". Retrieved 21 April 2008.
  7. "Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) Original Soundtrack". Network DVD. Retrieved 15 April 2008.
  8. "Obituary: Edwin Astley". The Independent. London. 4 June 1998. Retrieved 1 September 2009.
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