Friday, 25 March 2011


Number 7: Lost in Space
Someone had the bright idea of taking the children’s classic “The Swiss Family Robinson” and turned it into “The Space Family Robinson” in comic form. I remember watching the first episode and being enchanted by
1) The spooky theme tune (written by the great John Williams; he who wrote the music for Jaws, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Star Wars, and many, many more)
2) Angela Cartwright from “The Sound of Music” (which musical was an obsession at the time)
3) The Robot, who seemed to me then like the twin of Robbie the Robot from Forbidden Planet (“Danger, Will Robinson!”)
and, perhaps most of all,
4) Pathetic, selfish, treacherous, cowardly Dr Zachary Smith. It was thrilling to have such an anti-hero in a major tv series in those days when it was usually all about Robin Hood and William Tell types.
Incidentally, Billy Mumy, who played the boy Will Robinson, went on to play Lennier (Minbari aide to Ambassador Delenn) in excellent Babylon 5 thirty years later.


Number 8: The Saint
More by Ted Astley (see TOP TV THEME TUNE Number 38). I was never fond of Roger Moore and perhaps that started with this series but I loved the theme tune. I have read somewhere that they’re remaking The Saint with Dougray Scott as Simon Templar. Not at all sure how that would be. He’s pretty but he was like a piece of wood in The Day of the Triffids. I saw him in something else recently on TV where he impressed me but can’t for the life of me remember what it was. Which says it all really.


Number 9: The Tomorrow People
“Let me make it plain. You gotta make way for the Homo Superior." David Bowie: Oh You Pretty Things
When I started this list, my lovely partner asked whether this one was in it. I was able to reassure him it was Top 10. He must have been a sperm when this was on though, given that we have the same age difference Charles and Di did.
I gather that there were attempts to revive this series. I’ve not seen them, just the brilliant original and I used to rush home from school to see that. Partly that was being in lust with goodie goodie John (Nicholas Young), the oldest of the teenage male characters. The whole ‘breaking out’ theme with these kids who were radically different (Homo Superior: ‘Tomorrow People’) declaring themselves and finding emotional sustenance from the company of others similar came to have huge depth when I decided to ‘come out’ later.
When intrepid partner and I went to The Azores on holiday a couple of years ago, it fulfilled an ambition I’d had since first learning about those remote, mid-Atlantic islands when an alien species came to Earth there in an episode of the show.


Number 10: Bewitched
I posted a link to this on Facebook once under with the soubriquet: ‘My Favourite Theme Tune OF ALL TIME!’ Clearly, I lied then but it is in my top ten. I particularly adored Endora and Aunt Clara but the whole thing was great fun, including the music. Apparently, the show’s pilot had used Frank Sinatra’s ‘Witchcraft’ but Warren Barker, who composed all the music for the show, came up with the theme we all remember. I clearly remember trudging home through dark woods and turnip fields on cold, dark Winter nights to our village and settling down in the warmth on the hearth rug to watch this show. The titles and the theme tune had a sparkle to them that warmed even very cold nights.


Number 11: Mary Tyler Moore Show
“Who can turn the world on with her smile?

Who can take a nothing day, and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile?

Well it's you girl, and you should know it…

Bless you, Mary Tyler Moore. How I identified with your spunky, independent, career-woman character when I was a youngster, apprenticed to the adult world, and Sunny Curtis’ theme tune was so optimistic and exuberant that Doris Day could have sung it.



Number 11: Mary Tyler Moore Show
“Who can turn the world on with her smile?

Who can take a nothing day, and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile?

Well it's you girl, and you should know it…

Bless you, Mary Tyler Moore. How I identified with your spunky, independent, career-woman character when I was a youngster, apprenticed to the adult world, and Sunny Curtis’ theme tune was so optimistic and exuberant that Doris Day could have sung it.



Number 12: Top Cat
"Yes, he's a chief, he's a king,
But above everything,
He's the most tip-top
Top Cat!"

My dad loved The Phil Silvers show and this seemed to borrow characters and plot from that, turning it into a fast-moving, quick-witted, wise-cracking cartoon. I loved them all: TC himself, Benny the Ball (voiced by Maurice Gosfield who played Doberman on The Phil Silvers Show), Fancy (apparently based upon Cary Grant), Spook, Choo-Choo, The Brain, and even earnest, luckless Officer Dibble. Incidentally, a few days ago, I scored 100 points playing Scrabble with Stuie with the word DIBBLED.


Number 13: Man in a Suitcase
This theme tune was written by Ron Grainer (who also wrote the ‘Doctor Who’ theme tune) and was more upbeat and energetic than the show itself usually was. You young folk will realise that Chris Evans borrowed the tune for ‘TFI Friday’, not a bad show in its trashy way but not in the same league as something as complex and iconic as ‘Man In A Suitcase’.
This show was largely what the team behind ‘Danger Man’ (see TOP TV THEME TUNE Number 38) did next after their star, Patrick McGoohan, went off to make ‘The Prisoner’. McGill, whose first name we never learned, was a former US CIA agent, who moved to the UK because of some career catastrophe in the US. In exile, living out of a suitcase (hence the title), McGill made ends meet by working as a private eye in the UK and in Europe. I loved the show because it was so cynical. He was a good man in a bad, bad world and he was pretty flawed himself, a refreshing antidote to the gung-ho stereotypes you would normally get in those days.
Also, Richard Bradford (playing McGill) was such a shag and a great actor. Years later, I discovered that Morrissey felt the same and used a photo of Bradford on the cover of the single version of Panic.


Number 14: Dallas
Who shot JR? Lovely lonely lush Suellen (my cousin Linda). Poison Dwarf: Lucy No Neck. Bing Crosby’s daughter. Poor, luckless Cliff Barnes and his Chinese takeaways. Aquaman in the shower. The changing faces of Miss Ellie. The epic theme tune by Jerrold Immel. All too much to describe in more detail. It was a camp juggernaut: an outrageous soap that preoccupied the media in the 80s.


Number 15: Top Of The Pops
Whole Lotta Love, the opening track on Led Zeppelin II, was reworked twice as the theme tune to Top of the Pops from 1971 to 1981 and again from 1998 to 2003. Top of the Pops was real ‘Must-See TV’ in the days of b&w, only 2 channels TV, and for a long time after the advent of more channels and more colours. It was the only TV pop/rock music show, pretty much, until the Old Grey Whistle Test started in the 70s. And, while this isn’t Led Zepp, the pukka version is a Duckie staple.


Number 16: True Blood
Godric, Vampire Bill, Erik Northman, whipped puppy Sam Merlotte, Hoyt, Alcide, and above all: Lafayette! So many hott boys in Bon Temps! And the opening titles are some of the best, with Jace Everett’s Tom-Waits-lite sound.

Saturday, 12 March 2011


Number 17: This Week
I had several thoughts of pieces of classical music that were fitted to new TV theme tune purposes and decided that might be cheating. But this one made it through anyway. It was probably the first Sibelius I ever heard and I have gone on to listen to much more of and to love his music ever since.
As a child, I heard that the Finns had adopted a piece of his (Finlandia) as their national anthem and I decided this (the intermezzo from The Karelia Suite) was it. I was, I have to confess, a little disappointed when I later realised my mistake. I can remember nothing about this show and probably never watched it but I loved the theme tune.
In the clip above, I want to march about the sitting room to the last half of the piece, from about 1.45 onwards. It’s brilliant stuff! Quite glorious. When I have my own country, this will be the national anthem, for def.
If you want the original TV titles, they’re here on this TV Ark (Rediffusion Television) page – the penultimate link. Can’t link more directly.


Number 18: The Munsters
OK, it’s a total rip off of the Addams Family but imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and they did a bloody good job with this. The theme tune was written by Jack Marshall. Incidentally, Jack Marshall’s son Frank is a film producer and director who founded Amblin Entertainment with his wife, Kathleen Kennedy, and Steven Spielberg.
I remember seeing the first episode broadcast over here in the UK and nearly wetting myself with pleasure. Couldn’t wait for the next one, a whole week later, and a week is long time when you’d a kid.


Number 19: Star Trek TOS
The theme tune to The Original Series was called ‘Where No Man Has Gone Before’ and written by Alexander Courage. Wikipedia suggests that Courage borrowed heavily from Mahler and Bruckner here.
My best friend had an uncle in the U.S. who sent him a kit, from which a model of the USS Enterprise could be built. It sat on top of the piano in his playroom (he was much further up the social scale than was I) and we marvelled at its elegantly strange design. This meant that when T.O.S. began to be shown in the UK every Monday night, we were primed to become fixated upon it and that was the start of a love affair that lasted until the last episode of Deep Space Nine, decades later. From the opening bars of the utterly crap theme tune to Enterprise, I hated that fag end of the franchise so that was the end of the love affair but The Original Series and its music still enchants me today.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011


Number 20: Are You Being Served?
Ground floor: Perfumery, Stationery, and Leather Goods…
Great show, great writing, great ensemble acting, and bloody great theme tune! Who doesn’t think of it whenever entering a lift in a shop to this day? Or when listening to Pink Floyd’s ‘Money’? There’s only the sound of Stephanie Gathercole announcing floors to a soundtrack of the ringing till but it’s such an effective and evocative piece of music nevertheless.

Monday, 7 March 2011


Number 21: The Saga of Noggin the Nog
"In the lands of the North -- where the Black Rocks stand guard against the cold sea -- in the dark night that is very long -- the Men of the Northlands sit by their great log fires and they tell a tale...” Vernon Elliott created lots of the music for Peter Firmin and Oliver Postgate’s shows (including The Clangers and Bagpuss) and his haunting bassoon score imbued this tiny wonder from Smallfilms with sufficient Gothic chill to excite me as a toddler and it has stayed with me ever since. I thought of sexy Thor Nogson and noble Graculus often when I was in Iceland last month.

AND NOW: MY TOP 20 TV THEME TUNES! I feel like ‘Fluff’ Freeman!


Number 22: Cilla Black Show
This Paul McCartney song opened both of Cilla’s first two series of Saturday night shows. The third and fourth series opened with Something Tells Me (Something’s Gonna Happen Tonight) which was a bigger hit. I liked Cilla a lot way back then. I think she passed her sell-by date sometime in the 60s though.


Number 23: Coronation Street
The original version, played on the cornet. Written by Eric Spear, a Croydon boy. I associate this very strongly with my grandmother, who died in 1969. She watched it avidly. It reeks of home and hearth, of earthy working class culture and sooty back to back streets on wet nights. Perhaps this was the first show to fetishise that on a national stage. I haven’t really watched the show since the late 60s when my grandmother died. That was the era of Ena Sharples, Minnie Caldwell, and Martha Longhurst in the snug at The Rover’s Return. And the glory that was Elsie Tanner!


Number 24: Follyfoot
The original novels were written by Monica (great granddaughter of Charles) Dickens and the song was performed by The Settlers, an English folk band, who got into the bottom end of the pop charts with it.
It was a challenge, drawing up this list, to pay attention to the virtues of the theme tune rather than the show. Some of my favourite shows had OK theme tunes but I had to weigh up whether my fondness for the show meant I wanted to include it. This is an example of a show I barely recall watching but I can easily remember the theme tune and could still sing along.


Number 25: Bonanza
This is a brilliant charge of a theme tune, thundering towards you and sweeping you up in the show. It was written by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans (who also wrote Que Será Será), and orchestrated by David Rose (the first Mr Judy Garland and composer of ‘The Stripper’, see TOP TV THEME TUNE Number 43).
I loved big, beefy, burly, cheery Hoss Cartwright, played by Dan Blocker, perhaps my first BEAR crush! He was sharp, having earned a Masters degree in Acting, but played dumb. Michael Landon (Little Joe) went on to Little House on the Prairie, acting and directing. I called my first cat Little Joe. Lorne Greene was patriarch Ben Cartwright and went on to play the original Adama, another patriarch, in the first iteration of Battlestar Galactica. More cowboys, more homosocial Wild West worlds where women barely featured. Think I was being indoctrinated perhaps?

Wednesday, 2 March 2011


Number 26: Blake’s 7
Oh, this was such a deliciously British bit of SF. Cheap and cheesy and a marvellously dark complement to the US stuff being manufactured at the time, great as much of that was.
Blake’s motley crew of criminal weirdos and dissidents were hopeless and kept screwing up and were betrayed all the time by those they trusted. Evil, brilliant Avon was terrific. And there was scheming, sexy Servalan! And the theme tune was this anthemic bit of space pomp pop by Dudley Simpson.
I feel quite exhilarated just listening to it, transported back to happy times in my early twenties, sharing a flat with a lovely nurse tutor who was obsessed with this show and was a great mentor to naïve, younger me. I wanted to be him and coveted everything about his personal and professional life. Looking back from thirty years on, I do seem to be living a life that matches that template. Improves on it, really. Except he had a lovely big motorbike!
Fun facts about Blake’s 7:
1. Blake’s 7 was the offspring of Terry Nation, whose other great creations were The Daleks and the original series of Survivors.
2. I don’t watch East Enders but Michael Keating, who played Vila, plays the Reverend Stevens on that show and is an episodic character, I gather.
3. SPOILERS In the final episode of the series, Avon (Paul Darrow) is shot dead by the character Klyn (played by his IRL wife, Janet Lees Price). He also read all the biblical quotations in Richard Dawkins’ documentary ‘The Root of All Evil?’


Number 27: Batman
Holy Production Values! The whole show was so astonishingly camp, which I somehow recognised and enjoyed even as a child, and we would chase one another around the village, going “Dinna-dinna-dinna-dinna-BATMAN!”
Neal Hefti wrote the original tune and Nelson Riddle recorded the TV version.
For those too young to remember Nelson Riddle, he was a legendary arranger (and composer and orchestrator) whose work prospered the careers of Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, and many other legendary singers.
I loved Adam West’s hammy delivery. And there were also greats like Burgess Meredith (Penguin), Cesar Romero (Joker), and Eartha Kitt (Catwoman), joining in the camp and frivolity. It was all quite glorious. Precisely!


Number 28: The Onedin Line
Not a show I watched but it was a fixture for years on a Sunday night and I liked to catch the opening titles with this surging, oceanic theme of Khachaturian’s behind them. This clip is filmed on the Soren Larsen, one of the ships used in the show.


Number 29: The Virginian
I loved this show’s opening titles and particularly enjoyed the image of James Drury in his black hat riding along in tandem with Gary Clarke and Doug McClure. Long before ‘Brokeback Mountain’, cowboys meant homosex to me. The theme song was called ‘Lonesome Tree’ and was written by ‘Easy Listening’ maestro Percy Faith, who also wrote ‘Theme from a Summer Place’.
When I was a youngster, living in a small village, the mobile library van came round on a Friday night. Great excitement for eager young bookworm! So I would go down there and spend a good hour choosing lots of new books (I made the whole family join and then purloined their library cards). We didn’t have the money in those days to buy books. Then I’d come down and sprawl on the hearth rug, savouring the new books, and this show would always be just starting when I got in.


Number 30: Alfred Hitchcock Presents
The ghoulish and the macabre have always appealed to me and I loved this portmanteau show when I was a kid. The titles were great, using a silhouette the great man drew of himself, and the music (Gounod’s ‘Funeral March of a Marionette’) was perfectly chosen and well used. I can still remember, after all these decades, some of the tales of mystery the shows told. This was a show for Goths before we had Goths.
I must say that, over the years, I have come uncannily to resemble that old grey fat man :)


Number 31: Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons:
spoken intro and
theme tune.
Gerry and Sylvia Anderson brought me so much joy throughout my boyhood with their feats of ‘Supermarionation’. For a kids’ show in those days, this was marvelously dark. I was also never sure whether Captain Scarlet or his nemesis, Captain Black, was the principal heroic figure for me. I remember the cruel and unusual punishment to which I was subjected after some childish indiscretion when I was put to bed early and not allowed to watch Captain Scarlet. Never was such an injustice known theretofore! I can remember lying there in the darkness, listening to the theme tune from downstairs.
Barry Gray, sadly no relation, enthusiast for experimental electronic music, wrote all the title and incidental music that was undoubtedly a great part of the show’s branding and success.


Number 32: The Sopranos
I’ve always enjoyed gangster movies and have often joked that my ambition to become a consigliere to a capo was why I did a degree in Italian all those years ago.
The Sopranos learned from that rich tradition and played around with it to great effect. James Gandolfini, Edie Falco, and Michael Imperioli were all magnificent but they had great support from a huge cast of talented actors and brilliant writers.
Then David Chase torqued up the heat in the opening titles by backing them with a song performed by three Brits. Rob Spragg and Jake Black of the Alabama 3 wrote the song about Sara Thornton stabbing her husband in 1996 after being abused by him for twenty years.
Incidentally, went out with a friend week before last and turned out she had spent New Year’s Eve in Brixton with these blokes who are local boys.


Number 33: Deadwood
Al Swearengen! Sheriff Seth Bullock! Calamity Jane! Wu! So beautifully written and marvelously performed, with such splendid attention to detail in the visuals. And the theme was perfection too, jangly but still wistful and with sparks of romance.
Written by David Schwartz, who was nominated for a grammy for his music for Northern Exposure, years ago.
You may have gathered from some items in this list that I have a soft spot for the Western as a form, or certainly did when I was younger, and Doris Day in Calamity Jane has always been one of my favourite film performances. Just the idea of this show: injecting a bit of historical and psychological realism into the story of those early days in that part of the West, when it was still quite brutally Wild, was bound to hook me. But, beyond that, its execution was outstanding and it fulfilled its promise. David Milch wrote practically all of it and created something extraordinary. I was bereft when they stopped the show after the third series.
Always reminded me of The Doobie Brothers’ Black Water.


Number 34: Magpie
"One for sorrow
Two for joy…"
Learning that doggerel as a child trapped me into years of saluting magpies and other nonsensical superstitions. When I converted to being a fundamentalist Dawkinsist, I banged all of that on the head.
The theme tune was played by the Spencer Davis Group and written by guitarist Ray Fenwick. It sounds like Stevie Winwood singing but it was actually Eddie Hardin, who had replaced him in the band by then.
I always felt that my parents disapproved of this big brassy kids’ show on ‘commercial telly’ and would rather I watched Blue Peter. I did enjoy the starchy old Beeb show but not their jaunty hornpipe. I much preferred the phantasmagorical titles and poppy, upbeat opening to Magpie. Their boy presenters were always sexier too.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011


Number 35: Casey Jones
I can’t remember anything about this show except that I used to love it as a child and would sing its theme song endlessly. Still do in idle, unguarded moments. Word perfect still, fifty years later! So, as theme tunes go, it was a good one. Even more memorable than the show that featured it.
Other little boys played with toy soldiers and cars. I played with dolls and trains. I used to dream of having a tiny train track that would run all round the walls of the house, carrying messages and food and whatever from room to room.
My granny took me to the picture house for the first time when I was five and I saw a film that I think must have been “Santa Fe” starring Randolph Scott and I thought I’d died and gone to Heaven. Thereafter, I was hooked on the cinema and also on trains. Still love traveling on trains. Only form of transport I feel any fondness for.
There was a real train driver called Casey Jones who became a hero in 1900 when he sacrificed himself to save the lives of his passengers in a famous train crash. ‘The Ballad of Casey Jones’ was written about him and survives in countless versions, including this one.


Number 36: The Wire (Season Two)
I was one of those tiresome Wire-heads who gorged on the box sets of this and then bored the pants off everyone they knew who hadn’t seen it. It was marvellously Dickensian in its immense ambition and I was bereft when I got to the end of Season Five. The music throughout was cleverly used and although it was always Tom Waits’ “Way Down In The Hole” they used to open the show, they used four cover versions as well as this, the original. This was my favourite version, used throughout Season Two which was also my favourite of the five, dealing with the workers and gangsters in the port area of Baltimore and featuring Ziggy and his duck.


Number 37: Fame
Written by Michael Gore, little brother of Lesley.
I gather they remade the film recently but I haven’t bothered to see it. I don’t know that I could even watch another episode of the spin-off 80s TV show but, at the time, it did the job and this tune was emblematic of the show’s youthful energy. Schmaltzy, plodding plots were interrupted by sudden musical numbers that stopped whole streets and had people dancing on the bonnets of cars. By the end of the show, I always wanted to listen to more loud music and go dancing somewhere. With poor, misunderstood, troubled Leroy. I also walked around town wearing leg warmers for a while. Perfect New Romantic fashion. *blushes*
Can’t bear to listen to this now but must give it some recognition because of what it meant once upon a culturally challenging time. Glee, Fame’s bastard child, is an insipid thing in comparison.