Northern Ireland

Tyrone composer Sandy Faris makes the history books

Sandy Faris at his home in Primrose Hill in London in 2010 Image copyright Polly Hancock
Image caption Sandy Faris at his home in Primrose Hill in London in 2010

A County Tyrone man, whose name most people will not recognise, has quite literally made the history books.

Sandy Faris was born in Caledon in 1921 but would become an eminent composer and conductor.

His best-known composition was the theme music from the 1970s TV drama Upstairs, Downstairs.

Mr Faris has now been included in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (ODNB).

The dictionary is in its 130th year and includes more than 60,000 people who are considered "significant, influential or notorious" and who have "shaped British history".

Former Ulster Unionist Party leader Jim Molyneaux and playwright Brian Friel have also been added to the ODNB this year.


But who was Sandy Faris - and why has he been almost forgotten in his native country?

In his autobiography Faris explained how he was born "a mile north of a the three-week-old border between North and South."

Christened Samuel Alexander Faris, Sandy's father, George, was a Presbyterian minister and died when Sandy was four.

Image caption The Duchess of Duke Street was another period drama with a theme tune by Sandy Faris

The family then moved to Belfast where Faris's mother, Grace, became headmistress of Victoria College in the city.

It was through the school that Sandy was introduced to the piano and a course for a lifetime in music was set.

A scholarship to Oxford University meant a move to England. He would never move back, nor would he retain his accent.

"I am Irish by temperament, but owe my professional career to England and my love of London," he would later say of himself.


In 1943, he joined the Irish Guards as a lieutenant, later becoming a captain and taking part in the liberation of Brussels in World War Two.

Just after the war he first met John Hawkesworth, who would later become the producer of ITV's Upstairs, Downstairs.

Faris said the programme's iconic theme music came to him as a "last minute" third attempt to get it right.

"I realised it might go rather well in a slow waltz tempo. And that was the one they came to use always".

Image copyright Sandy Faris personal collection
Image caption Sandy Faris pictured in 1944

The tune, officially known as The Edwardians, has become a much loved part of popular culture.

In 1976, it won an Ivor Novello award for Best TV Theme.

In 2010, a compilation CD was released in aid of Children In Need featuring more than 80 different versions of the same tune produced by BBC Radio 4 listeners.

Film scores

Faris's other compilations for the screen included themes for the BBC drama The Duchess of Duke Street and the films scores for The Quare Fellow (1962) and Georgy Girl (1966).

His score for the latter did not include the film's eponymous title track which became an international hit for The Seekers.

Away from composing Faris was a leading conductor and musical director for some of the London's biggest stage shows.

He was central to the smash-hit production of Billy at London's theatre Royal Drury Lane, which starred Michael Crawford and an aspiring Elaine Paige.


His other credits included Sir Cameron Mackintosh's acclaimed production of Oklahoma! at the Palace Theatre in 1980.

"In terms of the theatre industry in London and musical conducting, he was a very important chap," says Mark Fox, a theatre historian.

He also provided orchestrations for an album of Italian songs sung by Luciano Pavarotti.

Sandy Faris died in 2015 at the age of 94.

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