Victor Hely-Hutchinson

Active - 1984 - 1947  |   Born - Dec 26, 1901 in Cape Town  |   Died - Mar 11, 1947   |   Genres - Fantasy

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Victor Hely-Hutchinson began writing music for films during the mid-'30s, but his work in this area (and in television near the end of the same decade) was obscured by his other activities: performing, composition for the concert hall, a teaching position at a university, and a series of on-air and executive posts (all music-related) with the BBC, which even gave him a degree if radio stardom in England. He was celebrated as a musical prodigy in childhood, a gifted piano soloist as a young adult, and a popular composer (even while working in a classical idiom) -- and he still had time to become a famous radio host and media figure, known as "Uncle Bunny" to many tens of thousands of young listeners and their parents.

Born Christian Victor Hely-Hutchinson, he was the son of the last English governor of Cape Colony, South Africa. His musical abilities manifested themselves practically from the cradle -- he could mimic music before he could talk, and play music before he could write or read. Hely-Hutchinson enjoyed two careers in the first quarter-century of his life, first as a renowned child prodigy and then as a popular and respected adult musician and performer, and in the 1920s also emerged as a successful composer. During this period, he joined the BBC and became known as "Uncle Bunny," hosting a music-appreciation radio program aimed at young listeners -- in 2007, it was still possible to mention Hely-Hutchinson's given name to Britons of a certain age, and see their eyes light up, remembering his broadcasts. His compositions for the concert hall not only won prizes, but were popular -- foremost among these was the "Carol Symphony," a large-scale orchestral work based on familiar Christmas carols, which continues to win new converts in the 21st century.

During the mid-'30s, as the value of orchestral music scores became clear to movie producers in England, Hely-Hutchinson began writing background and incidental music for British films -- as is the case with many British film composers of the period, his name is not better known because it was not common at the time for composers to receive screen credit (in many British pictures until the end of the decade, it was more common to credit the music director, who was most often the conductor of the score or head of the studio's music department, rather than the composer). His association with the BBC also resulted in his pioneering work in the field of television composition in the 1930s, writing music for some of that broadcast service's 1939 televised productions. He kept up his full range of compositional and teaching activities, as well as his administrative work for the BBC, right into the war years.

Sad to say, Hely-Hutchinson may have been too successful for his own good, in terms of keeping active -- between his multiple careers and jobs (which came to include music director for the BBC), plus raising a family, he wore himself into a state of fragile health and physical exhaustion that proved lethal amid the austerity of the war years and their immediate aftermath. In early 1947, he contracted a case of pneumonia that took his life at the age of 45. The "Carol Symphony" remains his best-known work, and also became his best-known piece of film music, more than three decades after his death -- in the early '80s, a section of its third movement was used as the main title theme and the major underscoring for the BBC production of The Box of Delights, based on John Masefield's classic children's book of the 1930s.