Primrose Hill composer who wrote Upstairs Downstairs TV theme dies

Sandy Faris in 1944

Sandy Faris in 1944 - Credit: Archant

Samuel Alexander “Sandy” Faris, a Primrose Hill resident best known as the composer of the Upstairs Downstairs television series theme tune, has died aged 94.

Sandy Faris, who died aged 94

Sandy Faris, who died aged 94 - Credit: Archant

In a highly successful career, Mr Faris composed and recorded many operas and musicals as well as film scores and orchestral works.

As a conductor, he was best known for his revivals of Jacques Offenbach and Gilbert and Sullivan operas.

He was born in 1921 in Caledon, County Tyrone, one mile north of the three-week-old border between Northern and southern Ireland, the third of four children of a Presbyterian minister and a headmistress.

His mother’s indomitable spirit helped the children to cope with the sudden loss of their father when Sandy was a toddler.

She moved the family to Belfast, where she earned a living as headmistress of Victoria College Girls’ School.

Mr Faris recalled being taken to watch Edward Elgar conduct the Enigma Variations in Belfast in the early 1930s, but the family was not especially musical, and his talent seems to have evolved from within.

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He read music at Christ-church, Oxford, where he was a Kitchener scholar, and after graduating, was commissioned into the Irish Guards, taking part in the liberation of Douia in northern France in 1944.

After the war, he was able to resume his musical studies at the Royal College of Music under the tutelage of Richard Austin.

He then began a career as a conductor, with his first official engagement being a 1940s revival of Song of Norway at the Palace Theatre.

During the 1950s, he scaled the heights of the arts world with the Carl Rosa Opera Company and the Royal Ballet.

In 1956, he went to study at the Julliard School in New York after being awarded a Commonwealth Fund fellowship. He had returned to Britain by 1960, conducting Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld and La Vie Parisienne. Other highlights included Puccini’s Madame Butterfly at the Wells in 1966.

In the 1960s and 1970s, he became very successful composing television themes, including Carl Davis’s television opera The Arrangement in 1965.

He also wrote the music for Peter Ustinov’s R Loves J at Chichester in 1973.

In 1980, he published a biography of Offenbach, mostly sourced from French material. Always a cultured man, towards the end of his life, he would enjoy a stroll to his newsagent in Primrose Hill to pick up Le Monde.

His 2009 memoir, Da Capo Al Fine: A Life in Music, recalls his childhood in pre-war Northern Ireland, and also describes how the ITV series, Upstairs Downstairs, was originally set to run for just six episodes, before becoming a smash hit and running for 68.

The theme tune he composed was entitled Edwardians, and won him an Ivor Novello Award in 1975.

The theme was revived for the BBC remake of the show in 2010, which led to Mr Faris conducting an orchestra at nearly 90 years of age – “Sandy’s last stand,” as he termed it.