Edwin Astley

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Today, he seems like little more than a footnote in rock & roll history, as the late father-in-law of Pete Townshend -- but Edwin Astley was one of England's busier movie and television composers from…
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Today, he seems like little more than a footnote in rock & roll history, as the late father-in-law of Pete Townshend -- but Edwin Astley was one of England's busier movie and television composers from the mid-'50s until the early '70s, and an arranger and conductor until the 1990s, and he contributed to decades of popular music in the course of a 40-year career. Born in Cheshire, England, he entered music as a clarinetist and saxophonist, and got a major part of his training in military bands. Astley subsequently played in various dance orchestras (usually billed as Ted Astley) during the second half of the 1940s before putting his own group together. By the early '50s, he had given up performing and was earning a living as an arranger for songs directed toward such popular singers as Vera Lynn and Anne Shelton.

He began composing for film and television in 1954 -- his most widely heard scores of the period were probably his music (excluding the title song, which he didn't write) for The Adventures of Robin Hood, starring Richard Greene, and his overheated brass, horn, wind, and percussion-dominated music for the science fiction movie The Giant Behemoth (1959), which was a prelude to his action/adventure television scores of the 1960s. In 1962, Astley wrote the music for the television series The Saint, starring Roger Moore, which included one of the most recognizable and popular title themes in small-screen history and even generated a soundtrack LP. He also later created a short-lived but notable craze for the harpsichord in television and movie scores with his title music for the hourlong series Danger Man, though when the latter ran in America as Secret Agent, Astley's music was removed from the show's opening and closing credits in favor of the Johnny Rivers song "Secret Agent Man" -- the harpsichord music, accompanied by horns and brass, was still heard in the U.S. over the individual episode credits leading into the action, however, and it heralded a period of heavy soundtrack session work for keyboard players, from Baroque specialists to jazz-trained musicians, who were skilled on the instrument.

Astley retired from working full-time in music during the 1970s, but kept his hand in at his own studio and also wrote orchestral arrangements of songs written by his son-in-law, Who founder, guitarist, and singer Pete Townshend, who had married his daughter Karen. Meanwhile, his son, Jon Astley, became noted as a singer and later as a producer, and his other daughter, Virginia Astley, made a name for herself as a singer. Edwin Astley also recorded several CDs of orchestral versions of pop hits of the 1980s and 1990s, using his own arrangements. In the late '90s, there was a revival of interest in his earlier music, growing out of the feature film The Saint (1997) and the boom of interest in late-'50s/early-'60s "bachelor's den"-genre instrumental recordings.