As ATV Network’s Head Of Music from its inception in 1955 to 1982 he oversaw some of the biggest theme tunes in British television history, including The Muppet Show, Des O’Connor Show and The Golden Shot.
He also appeared on many ATV programmes as the orchestra leader including on Larry Grayson’s ATV series Shut That Door, All That Jazz and This Is Tom Jones and presented ATV’s Tin Pan Alley music show.
The back of his head was seen by millions as he lead the band for Sunday Night at the London Palladium through its many eras and hosts.
John Russell Parnell was born in London on August 6 1923. Jack’s father with the stage name Russ Can followed in his father’s footsteps and took to a career on the variety stage. Jack Parnell’s grandfather – Fred Russell – had been one of the very first ventriloquists of music-hall.
Jack’s uncle was theatre and television impresario Val Parnell, who was a major player in the early years of ATV Network as a company boss. Jack started out playing the drums which lead to working with a Big Band while he was in the RAF during World War II.
Such was his talent he joined The Ted Heath Band and was described as one of the most popular British drummers of that era, he launched his own big band in 1951.
When ATV won a contract to produce programmes for the new ITV service, a host of theatre names were lured into the business to provide experience to the new television service.
Jack was hired as music director, overseeing productions in London and Birmingham where ATV Network had its studio facilities. His theme tunes range from game show Family Fortunes, comedy with Benny Hill to singer showcase with The Dusty Springfield Show.
He also provided the opening and closing music to serious dramas including Love Story and Drama ’64.
Jack became a well-known face on independent television, appearing on numerous shows, famoulsly on Shut That Door! and Saturday Variety where Larry Grayson placed Parnell at the butt of his jokes.
He performed with some of the biggest names in music of the era including Engelbert Humperdinck, Anthony Newley, Matt Monro, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole, Sammy Davis Jr and Judy Garland. ATV produced a Barbra Streisand Special in 1972 for which he was gifted with two Emmy Awards.
The archives suggest that Parnell conducted in nearly 3,000 productions for ATV and won the Harriet Cohen and Ivor Novello Awards for his television work.
After he retired from ATV in 1982, he continued to keep an interest in music and joined forces with trombonist Don Lusher and trumpeter Kenny Baker to tour in the band Best Of British Jazz. He retired from showbusiness in 1993 and settled in Southwold in Suffolk.
He died on Sunday two days after his 87th birthday, having battled for a year with Cancer. He is survived by his third wife, two daughters and three sons, two which are drummers.