Tony Hatch delves into the world of television theme tunes this evening on BBC Radio 2.
“With an action show, you need an action theme. But you can’t be too definite with soaps, because you have no idea what the story’s going to be. Crossroads was set in Birmingham, on a crossroads. On one side a family owned the corner shop, and another family ran the motel opposite. And because we didn’t know which were going to feature first, I wrote two themes that were played contrapuntally; whichever family was in the first scene, their theme would predominate. Of course, the show ran for 22 years and they forgot that idea after two months. It was always in my mind to write a simple, light theme, but not necessarily happy. You just do not know if the first scene will be around the table with a cup of tea, or in a graveyard.” – Tony Hatch speaking to Radio 2 about the Crossroads theme.
Eighty years ago tomorrow at precisely 3pm, the BBC officially opened its television service and with a sharp blast of a whistle “the new wonder” was up and running.
Leading comedy actress Adele Dixon sang the first song ever to have been written or recorded about the small screen – she sang “conjured up in sound and sight, by the magic rays of light, that brings television to you” – and with that momentous recording the first ever theme tune was launched.
Tingha and Tucker, Tony Hatch gave them a theme tune
Since that memorable day we have heard many, weird, wonderful and whacky tunes, all designed to stay in your head like an ear worm. Leading composer Tony Hatch feels that they are a call sign, an appointment to view, as soon as you hear the opening bars, you’re rushing for the best seat in the house – and he should know as he wrote three of the most memorable – Crossroads, Emmerdale and, of course, Neighbours, amongst many others.
Drama at the Crossroads Motel, music by Tony Hatch
Tony’s first telly tune was for ATV children’s series Tingha and Tucker entitled Over the ricketty bridge. This lead to the Crossroads theme, also for ATV, being composed in 1964. Other tunes swiftly followed including for the BBC series Man Alive in 1965, action series The Champions for ITC, YTV’s rural serial Emmerdale Farm in 1972, Border Television’s game show ditty Mr & Mrs in 1972 and BBC mid-week sporting highlights show Sportsnight in 1973. Tony’s last major telly theme was for Grundy Productions’ soap Neighbours in 1985.
As well as top TV themes Tony is also well known as a pop composer devising and co-writing hits including Downtown, Joanna and Don’t Sleep In The Subway. Chart success saw Tony as a regular on ATV talent series New Faces in the 1970s, and you might have guessed he composed the theme tune ‘You’re a Star‘ sung for the show by Carl Wayne.
Emmerdale Farm, life in a Yorkshire village themed by Tony Hatch
Over the hour tonight on BBC Radio 2, he will treat listeners to a smattering of those familiar and unfamiliar notes. They will learn why hearing the opening theme to Newsnight always brings a smile to the face of composer George Fenton; why Paul McCartney was furious with Cilla Black when she mis-performed the signature tune to Cilla live; and how Morse Code has been used in more themes than just Inspector Morse. Tony will also be quizzing listeners on their sporting theme knowledge.
“With Emmerdale, they gave me a storyboard – a sequence of still pictures of lonely country lanes, stone walls, a village, a pub, a broad expanse of meadows, some sheep. And I wrote exactly that: isolation, and a little bit of melancholy.” – Tony Hatch speaking to Radio 2 about the Emmerdale Farm theme