The Lost Art Of The Tv Theme


2015050920160401 (R4)

Few people who grew up in the 1960s could not now - fifty years on - hum you the tunes from The Persuaders, Crossroads, The Avengers, Blue Peter, Top of the Form, Grandstand, The Saint, University Challenge, Panorama, Dave Allen At Large, The Onedin Line, Department S, Tomorrow's World, Dad's Army, Sportsnight - the list goes on and on. The 1970s gave us Fawlty Towers, Colditz, Mr and Mrs, The Two Ronnies, The Liver Birds, Are You Being Served, The Goodies, The Wombles, Blake's Seven, Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em - and Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads, whose theme tune perfectly captured the affectionate nostalgia of the comedy. The melodies became so iconic that those shows which survived into the 21st century - Coronation Street, Mastermind, Match of the Day - have never ditched the theme music familiar to generations of viewers. And we haven't even mentioned Dr Who, whose pulsing theme generated by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop in 1963 has since regenerated itself many times over, and inspired enough new music to provide a programme for an entire Prom.

Rich Morton acknowledges that his age defines his taste in themes, as in so many other things. As a composer of very plausible tunes for TV shows and films which never existed, he favours the thrilling, brassy action themes of the 1960s or the jaunty hipster tunes of the 1970s. Yet his suspicion is that programme-makers in the 1980s - perhaps as a result of squeezed budgets - stopped commissioning specially-written music and turned instead to cheaper alternatives, such as adapting instrumental extracts from pre-existing pop records.

Rich argues that, while there are still memorable themes around, far too many shows now have bland or generic music which would defy most people's attempts to hum it, let alone remember it in fifty years' time. In an age when many viewers access TV shows from Netflix, iPlayer or YouTube, the need for an instantly-recognisable theme as a clarion call to gather round and watch no longer applies.

In this programme Rich sets out to ask what it was that made those old themes so memorable, and why the TV theme may have diminished in importance as an art form. He's helped in his exploration by some of the great practitioners of the classic TV theme, such as Tony Hatch and Alan Hawkshaw, and also by one of the most successful TV composers working today, Debbie Wiseman.