Trevor Duncan was born Leonard Charles Trebilcock (he later shortened this to Trebilco) in Camberwell, London, England. By twelve he could play the piano by ear, but wanted to learn to read and compose music properly. Thus, for one year he attended the Trinity College of Music for an external course on violin, harmony and counterpoint. However, his early knowledge of music was largely self-taught.
At eighteen, Duncan joined the British Broadcasting Corporation assisting in the production of radio plays. In 1943 he was conscripted into the Royal Air Force where he became a wireless operator. After his discharge from the RAF in 1947 he was given the opportunity to go to Cambridge University, but decided to return to BBC Radio as a sound and balance engineer working with many light orchestras. It was by studying scores and their orchestral effects that Duncan gained knowledge about composition and it was through an encounter with the conductor Ray Martin that Duncan had his first piece Vision in Velvet performed. However, the BBC restricted its own employees from having music performed on air. Thus, he concentrated on writing music to be recorded for newsreels and other companies not connected with the BBC. It was also at this point he chose his pseudonym, Trevor Duncan, a reference to a school nickname.
Ray Martin's approval of his next piece, the famous High Heels encouraged Duncan to approach Boosey & Hawkes, who approved it for recording. The piece enjoyed immediate success, with numerous radio performances and a commercial recordings. In the next few years Duncan composed numerous works and he became one of the most prolific writers of so-called 'mood' music.
With his success, he was unable to keep his BBC identity separate from his growing fame as a composer. In 1954 Duncan was promoted to be a music producer, and this conflict of interests meant that the BBC could not schedule any of his works in its programmes. Duncan made the decision to concentrate on composing full-time and left the BBC in 1956.
In 1959, he composed his two most famous works The Girl From Corsica and the Little Suite. The first of these was used as the theme music for the BBC Television serial of Francis Durbridge's The Scarf; the opening March from the second was used as the signature tune for Dr. Finlay's Casebook. However, after light music began to be heard less in the UK, he turned his attention to more serious orchestral works.
Until his death in 2005, Trevor Duncan continued composing, living with his wife and daughter in Somerset. He died in Taunton, Somerset, aged 81.
Trevor Duncan's most famous works are mainly classed in the light music category. As well as those mentioned above, these include Children in the Park, 20th Century Express, Sixpenny Ride, Wine Festival and Meadow Mist.
He was also a composer of more serious major orchestral works. His largest work, the Sinfonia Tellurica, composed in 1970, was a symphony based on the elements and man's achievements. Other larger compositions include The Navigators, St Boniface Down, A Tale of Two Hearts, The Visionaries and The Challenge of Space.
His library music appears in many productions of the 1950s and 60s, such as The Key Man (1957), Strange Awakening (1958) and Chris Marker's La jetée (1962). Most infamously, his library piece "Grip of the Law" was chosen by Gordon Zahler as the opening titles of Ed Wood's Plan 9 from Outer Space. More recently, he is credited with film-score music for the film The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes (2005) and was also writing a musical shortly before his death.
In 1973 Boosey & Hawkes Music Publishers brought out an LP; Background Music Specially recorded for Film Radio and TV, of Trevor Duncans works SBH 3051 it had 11 of his tracks on the album.Little Red Monkey (1955)
Joe MacBeth (1955)
The Intimate Stranger (1956)
The Hypnotist (1957)
The Long Haul (1957)
Man in the Shadow (1957)
La Jetée (1962)