Composer Jeff Wayne talks to ME & MY MONEY
Jeff Wayne is a composer, musician, conductor and producer and is probably best known for his double album Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version Of The War Of The Worlds, writes York Membery.
The album – based on the classic novel of the same name by HG Wells – sold 15 million copies after its release in 1978. Jeff, born in New York but living in Britain for 60 years, has composed almost 3,000 advertising jingles. as well as numerous TV theme tunes including ITV’s Good Morning Britain and film scores including The Who’s McVicar.
The 80-year-old father of four and grandfather of nine lives with his wife Geraldine in a country house in Hertfordshire. He opened the £5million The War Of The Worlds: The Immersive Experience in London in 2019 and will take his live The War Of The Worlds show on tour next year.
What did your parents teach you about money?
My father Jerry was a popular singer, actor and writer in the US and had three number one hits, a national radio show and Broadway hits.
I thought my father’s career would last forever, but it collapsed abruptly when he was blacklisted in 1950 during the McCarthy era, a dark period when Senator Joseph McCarthy pursued anyone he suspected of being a communist . By early 1951, my father’s career was in tatters and I watched my parents go from living a comfortable life to selling valuables and counting the pennies.
Good move: Jeff Wayne invested around £200,000 of his own money in recording War Of The Worlds
So in 1953 we moved to London, where dad played Sky Masterson in the original West End version of Guys And Dolls. I grew up knowing that no matter how comfortable you are, it can all be taken away in an instant.
Have you ever struggled to make ends meet?
Oh yes, when I returned to Britain in the mid-1960s after a stint in the US. I ran out of money when a music project was delayed, but was lucky enough to borrow £6,000 from my best friend in California. When my career took off, I paid it back with interest.
Have you ever been given stupid money?
For my first TV advert – for the Cheese Bureau – in the late 1960s I was paid 200 guineas (about £210), a lot of money at the time. After a few adverts the floodgates opened – I went on to compose the music for the Esso Tiger TV advert and write the Get The Abbey Habit advert for Abbey National – and my jingles went around the world. At one point I had offices in Paris and Frankfurt. But what is being a millionaire? To me it’s just a number.
What was the best year of your financial life?
Probably 1978, the year I released my Musical Version Of The War Of The Worlds double album. One day my father gave me a copy of HG Wells’ classic and after reading it once I knew it had the potential to be made into a musical because although on one level it is the story of a Martian invasion of Victorian England, it is also a story of hope, love and not giving up. My father and I have secured all rights [excluding the book and film rights] to work, and I spent the next 18 months writing the music and putting together the double album.
Although CBS (now Sony) thought it was brilliant, they weren’t sure it would sell. But it just took off and spent 330 weeks in the British album charts. It spawned two hit singles, Forever Autumn and The Eve Of The War, as well as video games, a London-based ‘immersive experience’ and a live West End production show.
The most expensive thing you bought for fun?
A Cherokee Chief car that had just gone on sale on this side of the Atlantic. I treated myself to it after the album success of The War Of The Worlds in 1978. My wife Geraldine and I also have a beautiful collection of Clarice Cliff pottery. If her work is in fashion, its value goes up, and if it isn’t, its value goes down. Up and down, up and down. The maximum amount we paid for a piece is €200 to €300.
What is your biggest money mistake?
I invested several thousand pounds in The Widow Applebaum’s Deli and Bagel Academy, a New York-style restaurant serving salt beef sandwiches and bagels, in London’s West End in the mid-1970s. It unfortunately closed after a few months leaving me a few thousand out of pocket. I think it was an idea that was way ahead of its time.
Best money decision you’ve made?
I’m investing around £200,000 of my own money into recording War Of The Worlds. CBS originally invested £70,000 believing it would be a single album of thematic music, but it was not enough money to make a double album with guest artists. So in 1976 I called a family meeting when I outlined my plan for a concept album based on the novel. I thought they would tell me I was crazy and wouldn’t invest, but they totally supported me.
My most beautiful purchase was my Steinway Concert D grand piano in 1975, on which I wrote The War Of The Worlds. It was a good investment and a similar model today would cost £120,000-£140,000.
Do you have property?
My wife and I live in a village where we own a five-bedroom Georgian house once owned by racing driver Graham Hill. We bought it in 1983 for a six-figure sum, but it has since increased in value twentyfold. It is set in 30 hectares of grounds and also has its own tennis court. Two-thirds of it had burned down in the 1930s, so it had to be extensively rebuilt before we could move in.
If you were Chancellor, what would you do?
I would seriously look at the impact of British artists if they want to tour Europe after Brexit. Costs have increased significantly.
What is your number one financial priority?
Making sure my family and I are comfortable. I just turned 80, but I have no plans to retire. I love conducting and producing my tours and continue to compose and create, as well as playing tennis, which keeps my mind active.
- The Immersive Experience of War Of The Worlds (thewaroftheworldsimmersive.com). For information on The Spirit Of Man tour in 2025, visit thewaroftheworlds.com.
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