Alexander Faris

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Faris in his later years

Samuel Alexander "Sandy" Faris (11 June 1921 – 28 September 2015) was a Northern Irish composer, conductor and writer, known for his television theme tunes, including the theme music for the 1970s TV series Upstairs, Downstairs. He composed and recorded many operas and musicals, and also composed film scores and orchestral works. As a conductor, he was especially known for his revivals of Jacques Offenbach and Gilbert and Sullivan operettas.

Life and career[edit]

Faris was born in Caledon, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland, to a Presbyterian minister father and a schoolteacher mother, the third of four children. His aunt was the sculptress Anne Acheson.[1] His father died of pernicious anemia when he was a toddler, and his mother moved the family to Belfast, where she became headmistress of Victoria College girls' school. His mother noticed his musical aptitude, and he was given piano lessons.[2] He attended Oxford University, where he studied music, and served in World War II with the Irish Guards. After the war, still stationed in Europe, he was involved with the restoration of damaged German opera houses. He then attended the Royal College of Music and worked as a chorus master with the Carl Rosa Opera Company.[1][2]

Faris first conducted in London for a 1949 revival of Song of Norway at the Palace Theatre.[3] In the 1950s, he served as the musical director for Carl Rosa and conducted for the Royal Ballet. In 1956 he was given a Commonwealth Fund fellowship to study in New York at the Juilliard School. Back in London, he was musical director, in 1959, for the European premiere of Candide by Leonard Bernstein. In 1960, with Sadler's Wells Opera, he helped to revive interest in the operettas of Jacques Offenbach, beginning with Orpheus in the Underworld, followed in 1961 by La Vie Parisienne in 1961. Other operas that he conducted at Sadler's Wells included Madam Butterfly in 1966. He conducted Carl Davis's television opera The Arrangement in 1965.[1]

Faris was first associated with the works of Gilbert and Sullivan when he conducted excerpts from The Mikado, The Gondoliers and The Pirates of Penzance with the Linden Singers and the North German Radio Symphony Orchestra for World Record Club in Hamburg in February–March 1961. Then in 1962, with Sadler's Wells, he conducted both Iolanthe and The Mikado. He was later engaged by the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company to conduct its last season in 1981–82, and he was one of the conductors for the company's last night at the Adelphi Theatre on 27 February 1982.[3] He was the conductor for twelve of the Savoy operas in the 1982 series of videos by Brent Walker productions.[4] Four years later, with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra in Glasgow, he conducted ten Sullivan overtures (Nimbus CD, NI 5066).

His original London cast recordings include Summer Song (1956), Irma La Douce (1958), Robert and Elizabeth (1964), The Great Waltz (1970), Bordello (1974), Bar Mitzvah Boy (1978), and Charlie and Algernon (1979).[3] Faris also orchestrated music for Luciano Pavarotti, including Leoncavallo's Mattinata for Pavarotti’s recording in 1976.[1] He composed the film scores for The Quare Fellow (1962), He Who Rides a Tiger (1965), and Georgy Girl (1966).[5] He also wrote a scholarly Offenbach biography (1980) and a memoir, Da Capo Al Fine: A Life in Music (2009).[1] The former "remains one of the most important" Offenbach biographies.[2]

For television he wrote the music for The Duchess of Duke Street (1976),[6] Wings (1977),[7] Fanny by Gaslight (1981),[8] and Upstairs, Downstairs, his most enduring composition.[2][9] The latter theme, formally known as "The Edwardians", achieved great popularity: Pauline Collins recorded two vocal versions of it in 1973,[10] it won Faris an Ivor Novello Award in 1975 for the Best Theme from TV or Radio,[2] and it was used again for the later BBC version of the show that began its run at the end of 2010.[1] "Edwardians" was also used as the title music for the "Upshares, Downshares" finance slot on BBC Radio 4's PM news programme. Cover versions of the theme, in a variety of styles from bossa nova to heavy metal, were submitted by listeners,[11] and "83 different versions were played" on the programme by 2010.[2] Faris was engaged to conducted a compilation of these, released on CD in 2010 in aid of the Children in Need charity appeal, for which it raised over £70,000.[12][1] He also wrote "What Are We Going to Do With Uncle Arthur?", with lyrics by Alfred Shaughnessy, the Upstairs, Downstairs script editor, and "With Every Passing Day", with lyrics by Benny Green. His other compositions include the song "A Century of Micks" for the choir of the Irish Guards, the orchestral work Sketches of Regency England and the operetta R Loves J (Chichester Festival, 1973).[3][13]

Faris died on 28 September 2015. Unmarried, he left no immediate survivors.[1]



  1. ^ a b c d e f g h "Alexander Faris, composer – obituary", The Telegraph, 29 September 2015
  2. ^ a b c d e f Williamson, Marcus. "Alexander Faris: Composer who penned the themes to Upstairs, Downstairs and The Duchess of Duke Street", The Independent, 2 October 2015
  3. ^ a b c d Stone, David. "Alexander Faris", at the Who Was Who in the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company website, accessed 16 December 2009
  4. ^ Shepherd, Marc. "The Brent Walker Videos", Gilbert and Sullivan Discography, 17 December 2009
  5. ^ IMDB
  6. ^ Issued by BBC Records, RESL 45, 1977
  7. ^ Issued by BBC Records, RESL 37, 1977
  8. ^ "TV and Film Composer Alexander Faris Has Died, Aged 94",, 30 September 2015
  9. ^ Lebrecht, Norman. "Popular London conductor dies, aged 94", Slipped Disc, 30 September 2015
  10. ^ Decca 1973
  11. ^ "Up Shares, Down Shares theme tune", BBC Online, accessed 19 November 2010
  12. ^ "Upshares Downshares: More than £70,000 raised. And you can help raise more", BBC Online, accessed 19 November 2010
  13. ^ Scowcroft, Philip L. "Some British Conductor-Composers", Musicweb International, accessed 16 December 2009

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