Why do I do it to myself! Ok here goes my favourite, impossible to do, top ten British TV show themes from my youth. Made easier for the fact that I’m not including children’s shows. Might do a separate one for that if I’m stupid enough to try and tackle that task.
I do like a good theme soundtrack and I’m fond of a list but rounding them up into order of which one is best, is nuts to me. Made even harder for the fact that these are beloved to me TV shows. So ten to two are randomly placed but number one is my favorite, for sure. So lets start.
- Number 10 – The Prisoner
The Prisoner had a re-run in the late 80s on Channel Four. I was transfixed with Number 6 (Patrick McGoohan) and his various ways trying to escape his capture and interrogation. I’ve always been obsessed with spy and Cold War TV series and films. Each weeks episode would contain another ridiculous and creative story for our hero to puzzle his way through. Each episode was inventive and rather crazy. If I had to pick an episode I might go for The Chimes of Big Ben but they were all good. One thing that always stood out was the theme tune. Wild and frantic and with McGoohan serious chops driving like a mad man, yeah I was in telly heaven.
The Prisoner theme tune was composed by Ron Grainer an Australian now living and working in Britain. His name will appear again on this list. He’d not only made the classic Steptoe and Son theme but also another remarkable score in the Roald Dahl show Tales Of The Unexpected. He also did film scores. To Sir, With Love (1967) and The Omega Man (1971) to name two.
- Number Nine – Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased)
I adored Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) a buddy private detective series with a twist. A partnership between two friends called Jeff Randall (Mike Pratt) and Marty Hopkirk (Kenneth Cope) who, in the first episode, is murdered but comes back as a ghost to help solve the case. After that he hangs around helping out his mate Randall. Hopkirk’s widowed wife Jeannie (Annette Andre) worked for the duo as their secretary and stays on not realising her dead husband is still hanging about. They got into many scraps and had many silly stories. It was an excellent series. In 2000 it was revamped with comedy duo Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer. Vic played the ghost, Hopkirk. I did like it.
The Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) score was by Edwin Astley who incidentally on my list composed the theme for Danger Man (1960) which starred Patrick MaGoogan. Many fans believe his secret agent character John Drake was in fact Number Six in The Prisoner. To me it makes total sense. Edwin Astley would also write the classic and brilliant theme score for Simon Templar (Roger Moore) in the spy thriller The Saint (1962).
- Number Eight – Blake’s 7
Blake’s 7 was created by Terry Nation who was a prolific writer for many science fiction TV series like Survivors and Doctor Who and even created the Dalek’s. He also wrote for The Avengers, The Champions and The Persuaders. Blake’s 7 was about a rogue group of freedom fighters and rebels lead by Roj Blake (Gareth Thomas) as they fought against a totalitarian government. In the days of just 3 TV channels the whole family would sit around the telly. Of course, most of it’s political deep narrative went straight over my head. I was too young to really understand but I loved it and the theme tune brings much memories. Note to self to buy the box-set.
The score was composed by Dudley Simpson, another Australian who had moved to Britain and etched his name on TV soundtracks. He had a massive contribution to the incidental music within the Doctor Who series.
- Number Seven – Jason King
Jason King was ridiculous silly fun. Jason King (Peter Wyngarde) was a flamboyant spy who had retired to write pulp fiction for a character called Mark Caine. Basically a James Bond kind of character. He would go off to exotic locations to get inspiration for his new book but then get caught up in espionage, villains and of course beautiful woman. Jason King’s outfits were bonkers especially combined with his big hair and handlebar mustache. So much fun. “A bit too early for coffee; I’ll have a Scotch.“
The theme tune was created and performed by Laurie Johnson. He also did many film scores with Tiger Bay (1959) and Dr Strangelove (1963) picking just two. On the TV soundtracks he had created the 1965 new theme for The Avengers when Diana Rigg join the series. And the 1976 The New Avengers reboot that goes off on a right funk bomb. TBH it should be in my top ten! Laurie might be popping back in a bit……..
Number Six – Are You Being Served
In what can only be described as a sit-com filled with a full on barrage of innuendos. It was pretty relentless and very funny. We all tuned in at the time for the mishaps and adventures of the staff of a clothing department called the The Grace Brothers. Saucy talk and gay flirtations. Even being young you knew the jokes. It was like the Carry On films set in one place. It was great entertainment and the theme tune just stood out. Funky, kitsch and different. “I’m free!“
The Are You Being Served theme was composed Ronnie Hazlehurst. What made Are You Being Served so different was using the voice of a lift girl announcing different department store floors as the a cash till pinged and clashed as the sound of the percussion. The amazing Matt Berry comedian and musician did a cover version.
- Number Five – The Professionals
The Professionals was an all action gritty drama centering around two ruff and ready hard men. Two top agents from the CI5 (Criminal Intelligence 5). Bodie (Lewis Collins) an ex-SAS paratrooper and Doyle (Martin Shaw) joined through the police force. This was a real macho show and incredibly entertaining for any pre-teen/teenage boy. Still holds up pretty well today to be honest.
Laurie Johnson returns to this list with this all firing funky theme tune with a superb opening intro scene showing the action packed nature of this series. Completely inspired by our, across the pond, American friends funky soundtracks. On a similar essential high octane watch back then for us young lads was the cop drama The Sweeney. Another show way too old for us but it was normal to watch all manner of violence and adult drama. The Professionals theme is way funkier than composer Harry South’s great but not as good Sweeney theme.
- Number Four – Rockliffe’s Babies
Rockliffe’s Babies was a police drama series set in London. At that time we were traveling up to city to buy records and search out graffiti around the West London area. It was one of those reasons why I’d always tune into this series as a lot was filmed around Kensal Rise, Westbourne Park, Ladbroke Grove. Concrete brutalist architecture mixed with graff and places we visited on a regular basis. The hard nose Detective Sergeant Rockliffe (Ian Hogg) was sent in to train up a bunch of young rookie plain clothes cops in the inner-city.
Joe Campbell and Paul Hart are credited with the series music. Rockliffe’s Babies was hard hitting and I used to love hearing the theme played out with the playground noises and song, sirens and a blasting, over-the-top, saxophone. A series I’d like to some day revisit.
- Number Three – Space 1999
Man I loved Space 1999. Got loads of the books as a kid, even wear a T-shirt now. Space 1999’s premise was really silly when you thought about it but who cares! Ready for it? Well nuclear waste explodes and the Moon, with Moonbase Alpha and a full crew, end up flying off into space. It had a great multinational crew, head up with two American’s Commander John Koenig (Martin Landau) and Dr Helena Russell (Barbara Bain). This was a live action Gerry and Sylvia Anderson production and a change from the beloved puppets. The crew would get into all kind of madness on thier travelling Moon. It was so much fun. The Anderson shows were all brilliant and featured superb theme scores like Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, Joe 90, Thunderbirds and UFO (another of my personal fav shows).
Space 1999 had two themes. One by Barry Gray for Year One and the other by Derek Wadsworth for Year Two. Both are great but Barry Gray’s one is pure fantastic. Such a funky space disco party. So cool the way it goes all slow whilst it introduces the cast and them BOOM it rips out the funk as action sequences are blasted in your face. .
- Number Two – Stingray
Pretty much all the Gerry and Sylvia Anderson productions were essential viewing and high on this young cubs viewing radar. Stingray was set under the ocean waves with Captain Troy Tempest from WASP (World Aquanaut Security Patrol) who looked after the worlds ocean’s. He was helped out along the way by Lieutenant Phones and the sexy and mysterious Marina. It might not of been the best out of the Anderson series but the theme tune was fantastic.
Stingray’s theme tune was composed by Barry Gray who hits two in this top ten of mine. It’s wonderfully sixties. Sounds very America influenced and fits in so well with the “Stand by for action” opening credit sequence. Submarines and rockets blasting, rocket fish jumping and exploding. The adventures were about to begin. Stingray also featured a wonderfully dreamy outro tune called Aqua Marina which was sung by Gary Miller. He would stand in for the voice of our hero Captain Troy whenever he would sing to the silent sweetie, Marina.
- Number One – Doctor Who
Like I say at the beginning, the 10 to 2 are not in order of my favourites. However I know for sure Doctor Who’s theme is. I love it as much today as I did as my first time sitting wide eyed watching it. My first Doctor was Tom Baker. He was wild and I loved him. His long multicoloured scarf, packet of jelly-babies and his trusty robot canine, K9. Plus his savage, skimpy dressed, warrior woman companion Leela (Louise Jameson) did funny things to me. So hence why I’ve used the forth Doctor’s theme above. I was obsessed with Doctor Who. Bought 50 plus books with my pocket money. I did a tribute to Terrence Dicks here. Still, today, after all these years, the theme tune sounds insane. It’s perfect in every way. The beauty is it evolved with each regeneration of the Doctor. There’s 13 variations and opening sequences of it and they all kept that immensely exciting core of the original. Check out the thirteen here.
The theme was written and by the Australian composer Ron Grainer (see number ten above). He’d written the theme as words! It was then given to the BBC Radiophonic Workshop to see what they could create from it. Delia Derbyshire and Dick Mills went to work cutting and slicing analogue tape together with various waveform’s and oscillating sounds from some of the first electronic equipment. Cut and paste and loop the loop style. What they created is truly incredible. If you want to know more please watch this short video showcasing how they went about the task. A theme tune that has freaked out, scared, bewildered and entertained kids and adults throughout their lives for nearly 60 years! It’s so special.
These were all big TV shows to me. So many adventures I had as a kid watching all these and still today I’ll drop into an old episode for some warm nostalgia. Of course lots have been missed out. I picked ten! That was hard. Feel free to let me know yours. Thinking I’ll hit my favourite America show theme’s sometime soon. Plus a look back at children programmes from my youth and even a freaky delve into 70s and 80s intro’s which should be fun.
Anyhow let me know what I missed, (Yeah I know Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy and the super funky Department S) Also fact check back at me on info I may of got wrong. And if you want to confess? Let me know tales of hiding behind the sofa as Doctor Who played out.
Thanks for reading. Hope you enjoyed it. All the best. Mikey Wolf.