Born in South Norwood, South London, Budd became interested in music from an early age and began to play the piano when he was two, initially by ear and then by copying various melodies he heard by listening to the radio. When he was six, two Austrian music experts visited him at home and after various tests, found that he had perfect pitch. In 1953, he made his public concert debut at the London Coliseum. By the age of eight, he could play the Wurlitzer organ and four years later he was appearing on television at the London Palladium. Although widely thought to be a self-taught pianist, he did also receive piano lessons from a lady called Mrs Sax who also lived in Mitcham.
In 1950, and 1951 he featured on the Carroll Levis show on radio. Roy also won a talent competition on a television talent show hosted by Bert Weedon in 1952, He sang some Jerry Lee Lewis songs when he was eleven years old with his brother Peter and a friend at the Sutton Granada under the name "The Blue Devils".
He formed the "Roy Budd Trio" with bassist Peter McGurk and his cousin, drummer Trevor Tomkins before leaving school and embarking on a career as a jazz pianist. Roy later reformed the trio with Tony Archer or Jeff Clyne on bass and Chris Karan on drums. Clyne was later replaced by Pete Morgan, creating a line-up that was maintained until his death.
His first recording was "Birth of the Budd", a single recording. His first recorded LP was Pick Yourself Up on Pye (NSPL 18177) issued in 1967, with Peter McGurk on bass with the orchestra and Dave Holland on bass on the four tracks featuring the trio without orchestra. Chris Karan was on drums and Tony Hatch and Johnny Harris arranged the orchestral tracks. In his sleeve notes, Hatch refers to seeing Budd on the David Frost show on television in February 1967 playing the Frank Loesser composition "I've Never Been In Love Before", which is on the album.
Around that same time, he also recorded an album named simply Roy Budd featuring Ian Carr on trumpet; Dick Morrissey on tenor sax; Trevor Tomkins on drums; and with fellow pianist Harry South doing the arrangements.
Budd won a UK jazz poll[which?] in the category of best pianist for five years running and simultaneously became the resident pianist at The Bull's Head, Barnes, London, where he met up with songwriter Jack Fishman, who secured him a three-year recording contract with MCA.
In 1967 Budd provided the theme tune for the Granada TV series Mr Rose, starring William Mervyn. In 1970, Budd made his film score début for director Ralph Nelson. Nelson was looking for an English composer for his controversial film, American western Soldier Blue. Budd recorded a tape of his own interpretation of music by composers Jerry Goldsmith, John Williams, Max Steiner, Dimitri Tiomkin and Lalo Schifrin. Soldier Blue was filmed mainly in Mexico and was based, to a large degree, on a battle which took place at Sand Creek in 1864, when hundreds of Cheyenne Indians were brutally killed. Despite being intended as an 'anti-violence' Western, the film was heavily criticised for its violence. Apart from the main theme, which he based on Buffy Sainte-Marie's hit song of the same title, he composed all the music required for the film and conducted the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, which Nelson commissioned at the start of the film's production.
In 1971, still in his early twenties, he composed one of his best known scores, the music for the film Get Carter.. Written and directed by Mike Hodges, Get Carter starred Michael Caine, John Osborne and Ian Hendry. The film's budget reputedly allowed only £450 for the score, but he overcame this restriction by using only three musicians, including himself playing electric piano and harpsichord simultaneously. In 1981 The Human League covered the theme from Get Carter on their multi-million selling album Dare. He later worked for the producer Euan Lloyd on films, including Paper Tiger (1975), The Wild Geese (1978), The Sea Wolves (1980), Who Dares Wins (1982) and Wild Geese II (1985). He also provided the scores to the 1971 film version of Kidnapped, and the Yul Brynner western Catlow.
Budd was asked by Ralph Nelson to compose the music to Flight of the Doves, starring Ron Moody, Jack Wild and Stanley Holloway. Budd worked with Dana who sang the film's theme. In 1972 Budd recorded the score to Fear Is the Key, which was based on the Alistair MacLean novel. Whilst recording the score, Budd was influenced by Ronnie Scott, Tubby Hayes and Kenny Baker, thus giving the music a jazz-sounding theme. Scott played the saxophone for the car chase sequence, which took place alongside the Mississippi River. According to the film's director Michael Tuchner, "the sequence needed to be recorded in a continuous ten-minute plus take, whilst hitting split-second action cues so as to blend perfectly with the chase sound effects. Budd and his orchestra achieved this in just two takes".
Budd's film work in the eighties included the scores for Mama Dracula (1980), Field of Honor (1986), and Picha's adult cartoons The Missing Link (1980) and The Big Bang (1987). Returning to his first love, he played regular jazz shows at Duke's Bar in Marylebone, London, partnering with veteran harmonica player, Larry Adler. He also arranged for and accompanied such artists as Bob Hope, Tony Bennett, and Charles Aznavour.
Budd recorded two CDs of film music with the London Symphony Orchestra. The first contained a mixture of big hits such as "Star Wars Trilogy", "Superman", "E.T.", "Raiders of the Lost Ark", "Star Trek: The Full Suite", "Alien", "Dr. Who", "Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger". This was recorded at the end of May and beginning of June 1984 at the CTS Studio, Wembley. In 1985, the London Symphony Orchestra made a full-length recording of the music from The Wild Geese, again at CTS Studio. Budd's other solo albums include Live at Newport, Everything is Coming Up Roses and Have a Jazzy Christmas.
In 1972, as his career was peaking, he married the actress and singer Caterina Valente, but they divorced seven years later. They had a son from the relationship, named Alexander. He remarried in the 1980s to Sylvia and they remained together until his death. Budd died of a brain haemorrhage at the age of 46 on 7 August 1993. His brother, Peter C. Budd, lives and works as a musician in Chicago.
- Soldier Blue (1970)
- Get Carter (1971)
- Flight of the Doves (1971)
- Zeppelin (1971)
- The Magnificent Seven Deadly Sins (1971)
- Catlow (1971)
- Kidnapped (1971)
- Something to Hide (1972)
- Steptoe and Son (1972)
- The Carey Treatment (1972)
- Fear Is the Key (1972)
- Man at the Top (1973)
- Steptoe and Son Ride Again (1973)
- The Stone Killer (1973)
- The Black Windmill (1974)
- The Internecine Project (1974)
- The Marseille Contract (1974)
- Diamonds (1975)
- Paper Tiger (1975)
- Welcome to Blood City (1977)
- Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977)
- Tomorrow Never Comes (1978)
- The Wild Geese (1978)
- The Sea Wolves (1980)
- The Missing Link (1980)
- Mama Dracula (1980)
- Who Dares Wins (1982)
- Wild Geese II (1985)
- Field of Honor (1986)
- The Big Bang (1987)