Frank Cordell (June 1, 1918 – July 6, 1980) was a British composer, arranger and conductor, who was actively involved with the Institute of Contemporary Arts, and also composed music under the name Frank Meilleur or Meillear which was his mother’s maiden name. Cordell was born in Kingston-upon-Thames, England, on June 1, 1918. His father was a doctor who served with the Royal Army Medical Corps in the First World War. Frank had two sisters. His brother, Sid Cordell, who was a professional musician, composed music for some of the Hammer Horror productions filmed at Pinewood Studios. As a young teenager Frank worked briefly for Homfray and Company in the cotton mills at Halifax and in the Midlands for a family relative, before returning to London. By age 14, he was a competent pianist. Cordell entered a city-wide London music contest and won a Melody Maker poll at the age of 17 for the most promising jazz pianist of 1935. This enabled him to secure a job as a sound man in one of the prestigious London Warner Bros. film studios.
When World War II broke out Cordell enlisted in the RAF and trained as a radio navigation operator, flying the Vickers Wellington in RAF Bomber Command. In his time between dangerous flying “ops” Cordell was in constant demand entertaining his squadron with popular piano music in the mess. On completing his 33 ops he was transferred to flying stealth De Havilland Mosquito bombers on the run between Britain and the Middle East. While in RAF Middle East he was later assigned as bandleader with his own group of musicians and a small convoy of lorries to entertain the British troops in the Western Desert Campaign. He was then appointed music director of Forces Radio in Cairo, where he conducted a weekly radio program called Music For Moderns. Among the friends and local Cairo artists he worked with was the singer, Delores El Greco. From there he was assigned to a double role of music entertainment and intelligence work in Palestine. It is in Palestine while music entertaining that he met his first wife Magda, who was a Hungarian refugee working for the British in translating intercepted wireless signals. Magda later became a well known “Brutalist” artist, and along with Cordell was a participant in the This Is Tomorrow Exhibit, and both were founder members of the Independent Group at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London.
Cordell returned to Britain in 1947, resided in Banstead, and joined the BBC as a composer, arranger, and orchestra conductor. Among the recording studios he used were the Abbey Road Studios in St. John’s Wood, and the Aeolian sound studio in Bond Street, he also worked with George Martin. One of his early music hits conducting his own orchestra was called “Sadie’s Shawl” (1956, UK #29), and another called “The Black Bear” (1961, UK #44). Cordell was noted in 1951 for his radio score of the historical drama The Gay Galliard, starring Valerie Hobson as Mary, Queen of Scots. He worked with most of the well known performers and musicians of the day including Noël Coward, Charlie Chaplin, vocalists such as Alma Cogan and Ronnie Hilton, and the jazz trumpet player Humphrey Lyttelton. In 1952 Cordell was drawn to the cinema and made his music film debut. He also commenced composing music for many advertising commercials for film and TV.
It was in this 1952/3 period that Frank and Magda Cordell established an artistic atelier at 52 Cleveland Square in Paddington London, which they shared and artistically collaborated with the British Modern artist John McHale. The McHale/Cordell atelier occupied three floors in a large Georgian row house in Cleveland Square. Frank used the top floor with his piano and large windows overlooking the park as his music composing studio. John McHale occupied the large sky lit studio at the back of the atelier on the ground floor. Magda used the other large painting studio downstairs, which was also used by all three artist as a film studio. McHale used the downstairs film studio to produce his photograms for his Telemath collage series. There was also a separate downstairs workshop and photographic dark room. The living room on the ground floor was used for entertaining guests such as: Reyner Banham and other members of the ICA group, musicians, writers such as Eric Newby, dramatists such as Arnold Wesker, and international guests such as Buckminster Fuller, and Picasso’s son. Cordell made numerous tape recordings of Bucky Fuller.
In 1955, Cordell left the BBC to become musical director of HMV Records, known subsequently as EMI, a post held until 1962 when he decided to become a full-time film composer, and scored the music for the 1959 film The Captain’s Table. In the early 1960s he married his second wife Anja whom he met on film location in Japan while doing the music score for the 1964 film Flight from Ashiya. He wrote the theme music for the spy adventure directed by Robert Lansing (actor) called The Man Who Never Was 1966-67, and wrote The White Mountain introductory music for the science fiction episode of Space: 1999 – “Mission of the Darians” in 1975. Frank Cordell composed over twenty major music scores including The Voice of Merrill (1952), First on the Road (1957), The Rebel (1961) starring Tony Hancock, The Bargee (1964), Never Put It in Writing (1964), Khartoum (1966), Mosquito Squadron (1969), Ring of Bright Water (1969), Hell Boats (1970), Cromwell (1970), Trial by Combat (1976), and God Told Me To (Demon in the U.S.) (1976). Between his film scores Cordell wrote concert hall works including the Concerto for Cello, the Concerto for Horn, a wind quartet entitled Interplay; also pieces for saxophone quartet, Gestures and Patterns, and mood miniatures such as Production Drive.
Cordell also wrote choral music for the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge; and an arrangement for strings of the English air “Oh Dear, What Can the Matter Be.” He was nominated for the Academy Award and Golden Globe for his feature film score of Cromwell, 1970. Cordell was involved in several experimental and documentary films. These included a surrealist film made in Yugoslavia in 1957 with McHale and his three sons and Arnold Bittleman the Yale trained artist. Cordell also wrote the score for the documentary film Tiger Tiger 1977. He appeared in the Fathers of Pop interviewed by Reyner Banham in a 1970s TV documentary on the origins of British pop art. Cordell retired with his wife and son to their sheep farm in the English countryside, where they kept open house to many of Britain’s leading artists and musicians including The Beatles. Cordell died in Hastings in 1980, and his original manuscripts now reside in the archives at the Trinity College of Music in London.
The following work by Frank Cordell is contained in my collection:
King Charles’s Galliard for strings from the film Cromwell.