The Music Man
Paul Lagasse remembers the music and life of an amazing musician, Roy Budd

Every successful spy needs at least one pistol (with silencer), a Minox camera, a tailored tuxedo, and a groovy theme song.

Since the early 1960s, the music that has traditionally accompanied secret agents on their missions has been jazz — the themes from the James Bond films, Mission: Impossible, and The Man from U.N.C.L.E., for example. So it’s fitting that the signature music for The Sandbaggers — which is as integral to the series as its long coats and even longer walks in the park — was composed by a legendary jazz pianist, Roy Budd.

A child prodigy in a hurry, Mr. Budd gave his first public performance at the London Coliseum when he was 6 years old, had his first television performance when he was 12, and left school to form a jazz trio at 16. Two years later he cut his first record, a two-song 45-rpm disc portentously called Birth of the Budd.

From then on, Mr. Budd, playing with his trio and with other distinguished musicians, released at least one new 45 or LP of jazz and light classical music a year until the mid-1970s. By then his musical attention had increasingly turned to scoring music for feature films. Mr. Budd's first film score, at age 20, was for the ultra-violent 1970 Western Soldier Blue, starring Candace Bergen. The following year, no fewer than six films were released with Roy Budd scores, including the action thrillers Zeppelin starring Michael York and the original Get Carter starring Michael Caine.

Mr. Budd subsequently scored many more action, intrigue, and thriller films including Something to Hide, The Internecine Project, The Black Windmill, (these last two also starring Michael Caine) and one of the last of the classic buddy movies, the 1978 action adventure The Wild Geese with Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Roger Moore and Hardy Kruger.

The Sandbaggers
Mr. Budd composed the opening and closing themes for The Sandbaggers at age 31. By then, he already had 20 feature film scores to his credit.

As far as is known, his Sandbaggers work was his only contribution to television. And what a distinguished contribution it is! Though the opening theme is brief, it has as much texture and depth as the series it introduces, and it is steeped in the tradition of the spy film genre. Comment Doug Payne is a music historian and Roy Budd aficionado.

When asked to comment on the Sandbaggers opening theme without yet having seen the series, Mr. Payne said: The instrument which establishes the repetitive rhythmic undertone (or ostinato pattern) is a cymbalom. It is a dulcimer instrument in the zither family. It is an ideal instrument to establish a moody sort of mystery. I associate it with spy thrillers, since John Barry, among others, used it in The Ipcress File and Lalo Schifrin used it in The Eagle Has Landed.

Eventually this gives way to the electric bass, which drives you along through the rest of the theme. I think Budd was always conscious of the funk in his pieces, something he exploited beautifully in Get Carter. The percussion symbolizes what I would consider a very militaristic cadence, matching the Cold War overtones in the show. A small string section carries the melody and, to my ears, suggests the adventure of the show. Budd sticks to the lower end of the scale, which suggests to me the slow tension of the protagonists’ effort(s) and ends it with a harp and a glissando that sort of symbolizes, at least to me, something suddenly ‘getting caught.’

The accuracy of Mr. Payne’s analysis of the series based solely on having heard the theme is a testament to the descriptive power of Roy Budd’s musical vocabulary. Mr. Budd’s busy schedule continued into the 1980s. He wrote the scores for several more movies, including The Sea Wolves (1980), Who Dares Wins (1982), and Field of Honor (1984).

His last soundtrack, written the following year, was for the forgettable sequel Wild Geese II. Tragically, Roy Budd died suddenly of a brain hemorrhage in 1993, at the age of 46.

Greatest work unreleased
He had just finished work on a sweeping symphonic score for the 1925 silent film The Phantom of the Opera starring Lon Chaney, a childhood favorite of his. A labor of love, the ambitious and challenging project had nearly bankrupted him; he had even been forced to sell his piano.

Despite plans prior to his death for release on the EMI label, Mr. Budd’s score for The Phantom of the Opera, regarded by many as his greatest work, has never been issued. Roy Budd had never scored for an orchestra before Soldier Blue (1970), but proved in several instances that he understood beautiful, sometimes elegant, chord voicings and string progressions.

I think the Sandbaggers theme is another such example. The music of The Sandbaggers reflects not only the program’s quality but also its pedigree: the music gives the series a strong, memorable link to a long cinematic heritage. No other television series can claim to have a genuine Roy Budd theme. This is yet another reason why The Sandbaggers is so special.

Special thanks to Doug Payne for his generous contributions to this article. His site features much more information about Roy Budd, including a detailed biography and comprehensive discography.