Ronnie Hazlehurst, The Sound of ’70s and ’80s Television: A Not So Perfect Ten Special

Ten finest works by one of television’s finest composers

Let’s get this straight: today’s signature tunes are just as artless as the programmes they accompany. I doubt as if anyone twenty years from now would be whistling the Homes Under The Hammer theme tune. Over twenty years since its absence from the BBC, the average person in the street still whistles and recognises the Blankety Blank theme tune. The same is also true with Some Mothers Do Have ‘Em, Bruce Forsyth’s Generation Game and The Two Ronnies. Besides attracting tens of millions of viewers, they also have another thing in common:

The signature tunes were written by Ronnie Hazlehurst.

Even fewer people know where he was born. Mr Hazlehurst was born in the home town of East of the M60‘s creator:

Dukinfield.

To commemorate his birth, a Blue Plaque is seen on the front of 169 Lodge Lane, a 41, 217, 220, 221 or 346 bus away. Rather than displease the current occupants by making a visit to his birthplace, there is a less intrusive way of celebrating his work. Thanks to the internet, you can listen to his works on YouTube. If you’re au fait with your Ronnie Hazlehurst compositions and prefer more permanent media, a box-set of Some Mothers Do Have ‘Em or Are You Being Served? is a worthy investment. Oh, and the programmes are pretty good too.

About Ronnie Hazlehurst

Ronnie Hazlehurst was born in Dukinfield on the 13 March 1928. His father was a railway worker and his mother was a piano teacher. He played in a band during his spare time which appeared on the BBC’s Light Programme and did his National Service as a bandsman in the 4th/7th Royal Dragoon Guards.

He returned north as a freelance musician in Manchester and spent a year at Granada Television from 1955 – 56. After working on a market stall in Watford, he joined the BBC in 1961. After composing incidental music, he became the Light Entertainment Musical Director in 1968. From then on he would compose some of television’s best known and most loved signature tunes. He would also conduct the United Kingdom’s Eurovision Song Contest entries in 1977, 1982, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1991 and 1992.

Living in Guernsey, he continued to work till his heart bypass operation in 2006. The following year saw him suffer a stroke in September. Having never regained consciousness, he died on the 01 October 2007, aged 79.

Today, his signature tunes live on among viewers of a certain age and many television enthusiasts. From the first note of any of his compositions, you can tell from the start it is one of his owing to the amount of brass instrumentation and uniqueness.

Our Ten Favourites:

  1. Last of the Summer Wine;
  2. Some Mothers Do Have ‘Em;
  3. Blankety Blank;
  4. Bruce Forsyth’s Generation Game;
  5. Are You Being Served?;
  6. Yes Minister;
  7. The Two Ronnies;
  8. Odd One Out;
  9. The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin;
  10. Only Fools and Horses.

1. Last of the Summer Wine (1972 – 2011):

One of our longest running comedy serials and one with another Dukinfield connection in the form of Kathy Staff. Its timbre screams early Sunday evenings, that very point in the day which means school or work the following Monday. For me, Ronnie Hazlehurst’s tune at the start and the finish was my high point of the aged persons’ comedy.

2. Some Mothers Do Have ‘Em (1971 – 1978):

The Morse Code influenced theme music was a good opening to the oft-repeated situation comedy based around Frank Spencer’s misfortunes. Instantly recognisable after the first eight notes, it asserts itself as an earworm within seconds of listening and drives males to don black berets and shout ‘Oh Betty…’. Badly, of course.

3. Blankety Blank (1979 – 1990):

Short and snappy, this gloriously cheesy signature tune with a plethora of chord shifts and swift gear changes screams ‘cheap and cheerful’. Once more, Mr Hazlehurst succeeded in making this another earworm among 15 – 20 million or so regular viewers. It was further immortalised in Peter Kay’s Britain’s Got The Pop Factor (And Possibly a Jesus Christ Superstar Strictly On Ice) when Paul McCartney played a few notes of the tune to fictitious pop sensation Geraldine.

4. Bruce Forsyth’s Generation Game (1971 – 1977):

The dulcet tones of Bruce Forsyth and a Ronnie Hazlehurst arrangement: what is there not to like? Its lyrics and theme tune was solid enough to feature in the 1990 revival. What’s more, he even did the signature tune for Larry Grayson’s Generation Game (1978 – 1981) which managed to equal – or even – surpass Bruce’s composition. Both signature tunes screamed ‘Saturday Night’ writ large, something which wasn’t lost on Messrs Marshall and Renwick’s End of Part One which parodied Larry Grayson’s show as the Fat Ladies’ Embarrassment Game.

5. Are You Being Served? (1971 – 1985):

Also starting in the same decade of Last of the Summer Wine were the shenanigans of Grace Brothers’ store. The till sound kicks off a rather jazzy number with string instrumentation and the legendary ‘Ground Floor: perfumery, stationery and leather goods…’ dialogue. Adopting Hazlehurst’s theme, the spoken part was adapted in End of Part One (with Sue Holderness on vocals) where Messrs Marshall and Renwick mercilessly ribbed the jokes in that sitcom.

6. Yes Minister (1980 – 1983):

Again, a sound effect was used as its hook, this time the bongs of Big Ben. Strings followed the tune which was stately in composition. It worked well with the Westminster chimes and Gerald Scarfe’s title sequence drawings. It was an improvement on the theme tune used in its 1979 pilot episode.

7. The Two Ronnies (1971 – 1987):

Heavy in brass and orchestral in arrangement, The Two Ronnies’ signature tune gave the viewer a great sense of anticipation. Though the opening theme is well known among viewers, its crowning glory was the more orchestral part of the closing theme. The signature tune – both opening and closing parts – were also used in the retrospective 20 Years of the Two Ronnies programme.

8. Odd One Out (1981 – 1985):

Though forgotten in the midst of time, Odd One Out was Paul Daniels’ first stab as quizmaster. Ronnie Hazlehurst composed a jaunty number akin to a tango. The interplay with the then state-of-the-art graphics and a stop-frame static Paul Daniels on a black background worked well.

9. The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin (1976 – 1979):

Mr Hazlehurst didn’t get where he was in the BBC without his diverse range of signature tunes. He could do happy very well, and as proved with Leonard Rossiter’s sitcom, he could do melancholy very well too. The melancholy music worked well with the opening titles which sees our fictitious hero doing a John Stonehouse.

10. Only Fools and Horses (1981 – 2003):

Few people would realise that the original Only Fools and Horses signature tune was written by Dukinfield’s finest musical export. The original signature tune was deemed by John Sullivan as sounding indistinguishable to other sitcoms’ theme tunes. Therefore, in 1982, Ronnie Hazlehurst’s original piece was replaced by the dulcet tones of John Sullivan (where he explained the phrase which inspired the programme title), used on the second series onwards. The original theme was inspired by a honky tonk piano, seen in many a pub at one time.

*                             *                             *

Honourable Mentions?

Feel free to opine on the ten signature tunes. Why not add to the list?

S.V., 26 November 2012.

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3 thoughts on “Ronnie Hazlehurst, The Sound of ’70s and ’80s Television: A Not So Perfect Ten Special

Add yours

  1. Have always loved Ronnie’s music, my favourite is Reggie Perrin. There’s one word that sums up his genius and it’s pathos. He can be respected along with Burt Bacharrach , unfortunately music took a back seat in 70’s TV.. let’s hope young Fillm and TV arrangers learn from his legacy, and how about a BBC tribute?

    Like

    1. Hi Ray,

      Seconded on the work of Ronnie Hazlehurst. I would say he is up there with John Barry, Denis King, Laurie Johnson and Burt Bacharach.

      From the late 1970s onwards, it was easier for broadcasters to turn to library music, such as Francis Monkman’s and Richard Myhill’s works on the KPM and Bruton Music labels. In spite of this change, quality didn’t suffer too much. BBC still had its Radiophonic Workshop in the mid to late 1980s. ITV still hired composers to do its theme music till the early 1990s (hence Jeff Wayne and Rod Argent being used for its sports coverage).

      Not only that, I would say the loss of the BBC’s orchestras didn’t help, nor the contracting out of programmes and similar positions which meant in some cases more nondescript themes. Needless to say, I won’t be whistling the theme to ‘Bargain Hunt’ twenty years from now.

      I do agree that a tribute to Ronnie would be a great idea. In fact, he and his ilk seem to be lost on (non-TV anorak) persons under 25 so an appreciation of their work is needed.

      Bye for now,

      Stuart.

      Like

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