That’s 2020 almost over and done with. Again, I’ve tried very hard to be good. When Boris has told me not to go out, I’ve not gone out. And I’ve done my best to see if I can help people who are struggling. So – and you’re probably expecting this already – would it be possible to get La La Land Records’ four-disc set of the Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1964-1968) soundtrack please? They’ve only done a thousand of them, and being reminded of lobster men and flying subs might be a nice escape from reality for a few hours.
Now it’s very tempting to just re-do what I offered CSTonline as the end-of-year sign off for 2019 again. After all, it cheered our good friend Victoria Byard up on a bad day. And there’s no better reason for doing something again if it cheered up a good friend last time. Goodness knows, she’s cheered us up enough this year.
But this year, Christmas has actually come early and I’ve been rather pre-empted. Last night, there was a gorgeous little pre-Yuletide present gift to feed my fascination with TV music in the form of Neil Brand’s Sound of TV (2020). Now, my wife and I have been loving Neil’s tuneful documentaries for some years, lapping up each edition of Sound of Cinema (2013), Sound of Song (2015) and Sound of Musicals (2017). And when we saw that the composer-broadcaster was shining his musical spotlight on our own favourite subject, the hard drive recorder was set weeks in advance… and when the opening edition – covering the art of the theme tune – aired last night, it more than exceeded the expectations that we’d already set rather on the high side.
I mean… here’s a TV presenter who opens a series by playing the opening four chords from John Barry’s captivating The Persuaders! (1970-1971) on the piano and explaining the impact of these notes on his schooldays. Who’s taken a piano to the piazza of Portmeirion to play The Prisoner (1967-1968) in celebration of the great Ron Grainer. Who’s sharing memories of Robert Mellin and Gian-Piero Reverberi’s stirring score from the seemingly perpetual reruns of the English version of Les Aventures de Robinson Crusoë (1964) and talking to folk legends Sandra Kerr and John Faulkner who are surely every bit as magical as Bagpuss (1974) whose stories they brought to life. Who’s talking about Edwin Astley and analysing High Wire, possibly my favourite ever TV theme – a harpsichord boogie that heralded another hour-long assignment for John Drake’s Danger Man (1964-1967). Who’s explaining how he learned to perform the blissful Maigret (1960-1963) theme at the age of twelve. Who’s visited a house constructed of library music albums inhabited by the brilliant Jonny Trunk whose specialist label has allows us to own gems like Vernon Elliot’s gentle extra-terrestrial tunes from Clangers (1969-1974) and previously unreleased electronica from The Tomorrow People (1973-1979). And how can you not punch the air in joy when you see a documentary host wearing a KPM pullover?
While it’s not been a good year generally for all sorts of reasons that we don’t need to go into here because everybody else goes into them everywhere else, it’s actually been a rather lovely year for TV music. Over on BBC Radio 3, Matthew Sweet continues to wave the flag for the art of film soundtracks with his own deeply impressive knowledge and gusto via Sound of Cinema (2013-), and amongst his expert curation of composer interviews and audio rarities during 2020 he managed to squeeze in an hour-long celebration of the small-screen work of Barry Gray. Scala Radio blessed us with a second run of TV On The Radio (2019-) with all manner of commercially unreleased gems gifted to us by Segun Akinola.
There’s also all those lovely CDs with tunes old and new from other specialist labels. We had a nice big picture of a La La Land release at the top, so I think it’s important that we also have …
… to represent all the tuneful goodness that Silva Screen have bestowed on us. Not being equipped with Amazon Prime, we didn’t catch up with Good Omens (2019) until it debuted on BBC Two in January… and very, very quickly we knew that we needed to own David Arnold’s score which – bless ’em – Silva Screen would happily sell us in a lavish two-disc set. On the Doctor Who (1963-forever) front, they’ve given us Segun Akinola’s atmospheric catalogue for the most recent series (including the wonderful Bond-pastiches from Spyfall) as well as archival gems from Dudley Simpson and Paddy Kingsland in the form of The Sun Makers and The Visitation. And over forty years ago, I’d never have dreamed that Paddy’s wonderfully electronic funky beats and ethnic underscore for the un-nerving children’s serial The Changes (1975) would be available to me 24/7 as part of an exquisitely assembled six-disc box celebrating the genius of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. Well done Team Silva Screen!
But this music isn’t just the incidental score of the programmes, it seems to have become the background accompaniment to our lives in ways that we couldn’t predict – sometimes nudging us in unexpected ways that give us new experiences which in turn lead to potent, important, happy memories… particularly at this time of year.
For example, back in 2009, I was working on Titan’s Torchwood Magazine. Yes – there was such a thing and it was edited by a very nice gentleman called Simon Hugo whom I didn’t get to work with quite as much as I’d have liked. But one day, Simon put me in touch with Ben Foster, the composer who had just scored Torchwood: Children of Earth (2009) which I was just in the process of documenting for his learned journal. It’s an amazingly moving soundtrack by the way… and, again, if you fancy experiencing it, Silva Screen have released it on a disc which looks a little like this:
Now, for people who work in the industry that I’ve grown up knowing and who have transformed their fandom into a profession, their enthusiasm for television is something I’ve always known and taken for granted. But I’d never spoken to Ben before – and for some reason I believed that as somebody where my experience of them was effectively a name in the closing credits of TV programmes, that they wouldn’t have that same enthusiasm.
And – of course – he did!
I mean, this is a man who has scored for big brandings like Happy Valley (2014-), Scott & Bailey (2011-2016) and Our Girl (2013-2020)… but here he is at the end of the phone and we’re debating about who out of Edwin Astley and Albert Elms was better at themes and which triumphed at incidentals, and did you manage to get the FSM CDs of The Man from UNCLE (1964-1968) before they all vanished off the face of the Earth and what your favourite John Barry cue from The IPCRESS File (1965) is…
And towards the end of our very first phone call, he’s saying to me: “You’re coming down for the Proms aren’t you?” And before I could say “Actually, my wife and I are The Sort Of People Who Don’t Go To The Proms. We’ve never been to a concert in our lives, let alone the Proms”, Ben’s enthusiastically saying “Look, I’ll have a couple of tickets put on one side for you and we can meet up afterwards after I’ve finished conducting.”
So, two People Who Don’t Go To The Proms went to the Proms. And they loved it. Being in the vast space of the Royal Albert Hall and feeling this huge, dazzling sound reverberating in a way that they’d never experienced. What a fantastic, new sensation! And the gentleman sitting with them turned out to be Ben’s brother, Nick, and he’s a composer too – go check out Cuckoo (2012-2019), Timewasters (2017-2019) and Year of the Rabbit (2019) – and he was every bit as keen to chat to us about his love of archive TV music as his sibling…
We met Ben for the first time afterwards. I think we were in shock still from our new experience. Certainly too stunned to properly register that he was introducing us to David Arnold…
But beyond that new experience, Ben’s kindness transformed itself into an important memory. At this time, my wife’s grandmother – an amazing lady – was very ill. We knew that she didn’t have long left. When we next visited her, she was so excited that we had been to the Proms. Because – like us – she had also seen herself as one of those People Who Don’t Go To The Proms. And she was so delighted and happy that we had even if she hadn’t, and our final conversations were her asking us all about it…
Around Christmas, we often return to the memories of those people who were in our lives – but aren’t any more. And that’s an important memory.
So much of all this – this particular blog and many of the others – is about sharing enthusiasms and using them to engage. It’s Victoria Byard smiling with delight as she tells us how she discovered HTV’s Sky (1975) at a conference where my wife and I are feeling a little bit lost. It’s Neil Brand’s love of the TV themes that have scored his life being presented on BBC Four. It’s Jonny Trunk staging musical events at the British Library and recreating those tracks he captured on cassette in his youth. It’s Matthew Sweet bubbling with delight as he presents audio obscurities on the Third Programme. It’s Ben Foster debating which ITC soundtracks are his favourites which leads to a kind gesture that generated a priceless personal memory.
And… it’s Samira Ahmed funding worthy causes through her love for Space: 1999 (1975-1977). It’s Jaz Wiseman celebrating the creatives of ITC in his free-to-download podcasts. It’s Emily Cook making isolated people feeling that little bit less lonely via Doctor Who tweetalongs. It’s Hannah Cooper’s eagerness to share her thoughts on forgotten shows that make them that little bit less forgotten. It’s Nicolas Pillai’s passion for jazz on television, which gave me the impetus to contribute to CSTonline in the first place.
This sort of shared enthusiasm has brought my wife and myself so many amazing experiences over the years.
This year, these enthusiasms have helped get us by more than ever.
And we’re even more grateful to those who have shared their enthusiasms with us.
Andrew Pixley is a retired data developer. For the last 30 years he’s written about almost anything to do with television if people will pay him – and occasionally when they won’t. He really hopes that you’ve got through the year safe and sound, and that you get to spend your holiday season with those dear to you and appreciate them being in your lives that little bit more than ever.