Herbert Reginald Chappell (18 March 1934 – 20 October 2019)[1] was a British conductor, composer and film-maker, best known for his television scores.

Education and early career

Born in Bristol, Herbert Chappell's first musical training was as a chorister in the cathedral. At Oriel College, Oxford he briefly studied music with Egon Wellesz. His contemporaries there included Richard Ingrams, Ken Loach and Dudley Moore, and Chappell wrote incidental music for many college theatre productions.[2] Following Oxford he taught for several years at Cumnor House Sussex school in Haywards Heath. The headmaster there, Hal Milner-Gulland, encouraged him to produce music that would engage the interest of his pupils. (Chappell dedicated The Daniel Jazz to him in 1963).[3] In 1962 Chappell joined the BBC Home Service, introducing the Adventures in Music series and presenting music programmes for BBC radio schools programming.[2]

Children's cantatas

Herbert Chappell's children's cantata The Daniel Jazz, with lyrics by Vachel Lindsay, is a short vocal work suitable for school choirs, consisting of songs about people and events from the Book of Daniel in the Old Testament (which covers the period when the Jews were deported and exiled to Babylon by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar), and was published by Novello in 1963. Much performed in schools during the 1960s and 1970s, it was privately recorded in 1972 by Hazelgrove Junior School in Hatfield,[4] and commercially in 1974 by the Southend Boys' Choir.[5][6] Spurred on by its success, Novello commissioned a series of "pop cantatas" along the same lines by Michael Hurd (Jonah-Man Jazz, 1966), Andrew Lloyd Webber (Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, 1968) and Joseph Horovitz (Captain Noah and His Floating Zoo, 1970). Chappell himself followed up with a series of his own, including The Christmas Jazz, The Goliath Jazz, The Noah Jazz and The Jericho Jazz.[1]

Music for television

As a television director and producer, Chappell first made his mark with a BBC Two Workshop series of eleven documentaries on classical music, which ran from 1964 until 1969. A highlight included Leonard Bernstein conducting the London Symphony Orchestra in a rehearsal of Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony.[7]

For the Omnibus series of programmes on BBC One, broadcast between 1971 and 1976, Chappell worked mostly with Andre Previn, memorably pairing Previn with Oscar Peterson to discuss and demonstrate the development of piano jazz.[8][9] In 1975, Chappell's film in the same series about African Sanctus[10] followed the journey of ethnomusicologist David Fanshawe resulting in the composition and recording of the work, and was nominated for the Prix Italia.[11] An updated version of the film, African Sanctus Revisited, directed by Chappell, was made in 1995.[12]

His work on music documentaries for the BBC continued into the 1980s, leading to commissions by Decca to provide material for video-cassettes and laser-discs.[3] The culmination of this was the high profile Three Tenors concert, filmed from the Baths of Caracalla in Rome during at the 1990 World Cup.[1]

Chappell's many television scores include In Loving Memory (1969–1986), Clouds of Witness (1972), The Shadow of the Tower (1972), Murder Must Advertise (1973), and The Pallisers (1974).[13][14] He wrote "Size Ten Shuffle" for the BBC's dramatisation of Lord Peter Wimsey (1972), which was later featured as the theme for FilmFair's adaptation of Paddington Bear (1976–1980).[15][16] Chappell also wrote the theme for the BBC television series Songs of Praise (1980–1986).[17]

His song, "The Gonk", appeared in the 1978 film Dawn of the Dead[18] and again, remixed by Kid Koala, in the film Shaun of the Dead (2004).[19] A variation (performed in chicken clucks) is also used as the end theme to Seth Green and Matthew Senreich's animated cartoon Robot Chicken.

Concert works

He also wrote classical pieces, such as the Guitar Concerto, recorded in 1991 by Eduardo Fernandez. Gramophone Magazine described the concerto as "arguably the most dynamic, colourful and explosive guitar concerto of the last half-century".[20] An orchestral Irish Overture dates from 1973.[21]

Chappell died from complications of Alzheimer's disease on 20 October 2019, aged 85.[3]


  1. ^ a b c "Herbert Chappell: TV composer and producer who brought the Three Tenors to the world stage". independent.co.uk. Retrieved 20 November 2019.
  2. ^ a b Obituary. Herbert Chappell, in The Times, 7 November, 2019
  3. ^ a b c Herbert Chappell obituary by Humphrey Burton in The Guardian, 18 December, 2019
  4. ^ Profile Records, GMOR 101
  5. ^ "Southend Choirs Discography". Southend Choirs. Retrieved 6 June 2017.
  6. ^ Three Pop Cantatas: The Daniel Jazz - Original 1974 recording
  7. ^ Workshop: Bernstein in Rehearsal, 6 January, 1967
  8. ^ Omnibus: Oscar Peterson and Andre Previn, 1 December, 1974
  9. ^ Oscar Peterson and Andre Previn, YouTube
  10. ^ Omnibus: African Sanctus, 30 March, 1975
  11. ^ The 'African Sanctus' website
  12. ^ "African Sanctus Revisited (1995)". BFI. Retrieved 6 June 2017.
  13. ^ "Herbert Chappell's iMDb page". imdb.com. Retrieved 9 May 2019.
  14. ^ "British Light Music Premieres, Vol. 1 – The Pallisers, television series score". Allmusic. Retrieved 6 June 2017.
  15. ^ "Boyfriends – Lord Peter Wimsey Theme". discogs.com. Discogs. Retrieved 2 May 2020.
  16. ^ "RESL 7". 45cat.com. 45cat. Retrieved 2 May 2020.
  17. ^ "Songs of Praise (Theme Music)". Banks Music Publications. Retrieved 6 June 2017.
  18. ^ "The Film League » Blog Archive » The Gonk and Zombies: The Stock Music Score of Dawn of the Dead". 7 December 2013. Archived from the original on 7 December 2013. Retrieved 14 December 2017.
  19. ^ Shaun of the Dead (2004), retrieved 14 December 2017
  20. ^ John Duarte. "Works for Guitar and Orchestra". Gramophone magazine. Retrieved 6 June 2017.
  21. ^ British Music Collection