Bafta-winning composer Carl Davis dies aged 86
Musician best known for BBC’s Pride and Prejudice and 1981’s The French Lieutenant’s Woman also composed for silent film, stage and concert hall
Bafta-winning composer and conductor Carl Davis has died at the age of 86, his family has announced today.
Davis, whose work included the music for the BBC’s 1995 drama Pride and Prejudice, won a Bafta and an Ivor Novello award for his score to 1981 film classic The French Lieutenant’s Woman.
A statement from his family said: “We are heartbroken to announce that Carl Davis (CBE) passed away this morning, following a brain haemorrhage.
“We are so proud that Carl’s legacy will be his astonishing impact on music. A consummate all-round musician, he was the driving force behind the reinvention of the silent movie for this generation and he wrote scores for some of the most-loved and remembered British television dramas.”
Davis was born in Brooklyn, New York, but had lived in the UK since 1961. His other credits included music for BBC dramas Upstairs, Downstairs in 2010, and Cranford in 2007, as well as music for films including the 1984 hit Champions starring Sir John Hurt, 1989’s Scandal with Hurt and Joanne Whalley, and most famously The French Lieutenant’s Woman with Meryl Streep.
His music has accompanied a host of British movie classics including 1971’s Up Pompeii!, Widows’ Peak in 1994 with the late Natasha Richardson and Mia Farrow and 1993’s The Trial with Sir Anthony Hopkins.
In the 1970s, Jeremy Isaacs commissioned Davis to write the award-winning score for The World at War television series and he was later commissioned by the BBC to compose music for a host of classic serials. In 1991, he collaborated with Paul McCartney on The Liverpool Oratorio, an eight-movement work loosely based on McCartney’s life, written to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. He continued composing well into his 80s, creating four full-length dance works in the last seven years alone: Nijinsky (2016) Chaplin, The Tramp (2019), The Great Gatsby (2019) and Le Fantôme et Christine, which premiered at the Shanghai Ballet in May 2023.
Sam Wigglesworth, director of performance music at Faber, Davis’s publisher since 1990, said:
“To spend time with Carl was an energising – often dizzying – joy … Few, if any, composers today can boast such an eclectic life in music, and our world will be a duller place without him.”
He is survived by his wife, actor Jean Boht, their two daughters and three grandchildren.