John Valmore Pearson (18 June 1925 – 20 March 2011), known as Johnny Pearson, was a British composer, orchestra leader and pianist. He led the Top of the Pops orchestra for sixteen years, wrote a catalogue of library music, and had many of his pieces used as the theme music to television series.
He was born in Chesterfield, Derbyshire, and as a teenager played classical and jazz piano. After national service, he played in the Malcolm Mitchell Trio, touring on the variety circuit, and accompanied visiting Americans such as Hoagy Carmichael and Maxine Sullivan. Pearson co-wrote novelty numbers such as Man Or Mouse that were recorded by the trio for Parlophone.
He left the trio in 1954 and turned to work in radio in an era when every light entertainment show had its resident musicians. He also played with the Peter Yorke Concert Orchestra, which performed a wide range of light music pieces for the BBC Light Programme.
Pearson's career took off in the 1960s as his talents were sought as an arranger, composer, recording artist and television bandleader. In 1964 Parlophone's George Martin asked him to create an orchestral arrangement for Anyone Who Had a Heart, the Burt Bacharach and Hal David song, which Martin had chosen to record with Cilla Black. The result was a No 1 hit, as was Black's single You're My World, also arranged by Pearson.
These successes showed that he had the skills to bridge the gap between the genteel light music of the post-second world war years and the brash new pop of the 1960s. In 1966 he was appointed director of the resident orchestra for Top of the Pops, remaining there for 15 years. Pearson's arrangement for the Top of the Pops Orchestra of Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love" was the theme tune to Top of the Pops for most of the 1970s.
He had also developed a recording career of his own. A 1962 instrumental album, Piano Sweet – Piano Wild, for the small Oriole label had been followed by the single Cast Your Fate to the Wind, a version of a US hit by Vince Guaraldi. The version of the song recorded by Pearson and other members of the studio group Sounds Orchestral for the Piccadilly label was a top 10 hit in 1965.
More television work followed as Pearson conducted orchestras for programmes starring the Carpenters and Dusty Springfield. The Carpenters' 1973 album Now and Then included the song Heather, which had originated as an instrumental called Autumn Reverie, written by Pearson in 1968 as a piece of library music, made for TV, film and commercial producers looking for low-cost, ready-made background music.
Pearson composed prolifically for the library music publisher KPM, where his ability to invoke moods through melodic and rhythmic ideas led to perhaps the most well-known aspect of his career, the creation of original themes for television series. His piece entitled The Awakening was used as the opening title music for ITV's News at Ten. He was commissioned in 1978 to provide the title music for All Creatures Great and Small, the highly successful adaptation of James Herriot's best-selling books about a vet's life in Yorkshire. In direct contrast to the rural idyll conjured by that music were the themes Pearson provided for the Ted Rogers gameshow 3-2-1 and for the BBC sports show Superstars.
In 1971 another television theme, for Owen MD, had become Pearson's second hit single under the title Sleepy Shores. This led to a series of albums by the Johnny Pearson Orchestra, for the most part consisting of versions of film themes and recent hits in a relaxed, easy-listening style. Pearson also made more than a dozen LPs in a similar vein under the Sounds Orchestral name. When easy listening, or "lounge-core" music, enjoyed a brief vogue in the 1990s, he was feted as one of the genre's key figures, and the Sounds Orchestral version of the Los Bravos hit Black Is Black was a favourite on the Northern Soul club scene.
From 1987 Pearson was also part-owner of the CTS recording studios at Wembley, north-west London, where many film soundtracks were recorded. After the 1980s, he was less active as a composer, although he occasionally performed with his quartet and recorded more library music as a soloist. Johnny Pearson died at the age of 85, on 20 March 2011. (Info mainly from the Guardian.com obit)