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Biswas: the musical?

Did you know that the famous James Bond movie theme originated in a musical version of a V.S. Naipaul novel? I certainly didn’t, but maybe I’m the last one to hear.

Last month, a small UK label called Bronze Records released a double album of songs by a singer-composer called Monty Norman, called Completing the Circle. One of the tracks is billed as the original song which became the James Bond theme … that throbbing minor-key electric guitar (first scored for sitar) that introduced Dr No and its successors, and became one of the best-known title tunes in film history.

There’s been some controversy over how much the James Bond theme is really Monty Norman’s work and how much was contributed by Oscar-winning composer John Barry … but Norman has won three court cases defending his ownership, and even won damages from the London Sunday Times.

Anyway, Monty Norman insists the James Bond theme is an updated version of a song he wrote for a stage musical version of V.S. Naipaul’s 1961 novel A House for Mr Biswas, which was supposed to be a follow-up to Norman’s successful Irma La Douce. The song was called Good Sign, Bad Sign, and was to be sung by a character with a perpetual sneeze. And now, on Completing the Circle, he’s released the original song that he wrote for that Biswas musical. If anyone hears it, write and tell us!

The Biswas project was eventually dropped, because of cost and the difficulty of assembling a West Indian and Asian cast in early sixties London, according to Norman. But he explains that when he was asked in 1962 to write a title tune for Dr No, he rescued the Biswas tune, reworked it, and, according to later court evidence, earned nearly half a million pounds from it between 1976 and 1999 alone.

Haven’t heard any comment on this from Naipaul. But a Broadway musical version of the Nobel prizewinner’s most famous novel … now that would be a mind-blowing spectacle.

– Jeremy Taylor 

Caroline Taylor

Caroline is an editor and staff writer at MEP. She is also on MEP’s board of directors, and moonlights as an actor, singer, and director. She’s passionate about telling stories – on the page, on the stage, on screen – and in particular about documenting Caribbean lives and events. She’s currently trying to master unplugging from her iLife… For more: Author posts

2 thoughts on “Biswas: the musical?”

  1. Well that's a new one for me too. Bond and A House for Mr Biswas, what an unlikely mix, although it seems to have worked excellently. Is there a more unmistakable title tune in Cinema? I don 't think so

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