The Hour: I wrote the musical score

Wednesday 21 November 2012, 10:33

Kevin Sargent Kevin Sargent Composer

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I am the composer on the second series of The Hour, a drama set in a 1950s BBC newsroom. My job is to create original music to support sections of the programme, hopefully enhancing them.

I was brought on board just as shooting had started, as pre-recorded tracks of some songs of the period were urgently needed for the performers in the Soho nightclub scenes: Never Do A Tango With An Eskimo, Betcha I Getcha and Softly, Softly.

We assembled a six-piece band like what might be heard in a 1950s club at Chestnut Recording Studios, in a small basement in West Kensington, London: sax, trumpet, guitar, bass, drums and me on piano.

Hannah Tointon (Kiki Delaine) came and sang too.

She seemed a bit apprehensive but was really great; she had a lovely feeling for the character and sang in tune, a relief to all concerned. I think the fragility and vulnerability in her voice really added to the story.

I also wrote a couple of original pieces that the band could play in the background to scenes; time and resources were so short, it's usually quicker to write something original than to research and get clearance, approval and arrangements for existing tunes.

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The Paradise club theme

The musical style and period is something I am pretty familiar with and it's a favourite of mine; I had just finished a late 50s jazz-type score for We'll Take Manhattan, (which incidentally my pal John McKay wrote about on this blog).

A tricky part was making series two sound like the established, spare landscape of The Hour, but moving it on, making it particular to the new situations and characters and adding my own composer's voice.

Every composer has personal preferences, I suppose - harmonies, intervals, instrumentation, textures.

There were many lively discussions with the directors, editors, producers and executive producers about getting the tone just right, the balance between irony and sincerity, or whether certain scenes needed music at all - and opinions differed greatly.

At one point, I had to bail out of a particularly fraught sound mixing session and just let the team thrash it out.

The hardest part of the job was the time pressure, and as the schedule continued this got tighter. The first episode is invariably the hardest as the tone needs to be established to everyone's satisfaction.

I think this series is more directly emotional than the first.

A big theme is an inability to confront emotional truths, and the score reflects this: more lyrical perhaps, more expressive and thematic, though in a restrained way.

Over the course of the series, I used a range of instruments including piano, various saxophones, acoustic bass, vibraphone, celesta, percussion and drums - and also an amazing cellist (Nicholas Holland).

I've waited all my life for someone to ask me for a big classic news theme and the 'show within the show' finally gave me an opportunity.

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The Hour's programme theme

For me, it needed to be very 1950s, confident and authoritative.

I based the theme on the well-known phrase "Cometh the hour, cometh the man," and included chiming bells and 'ticking' percussion - as I tried to do throughout the score - to root it to the idea of The Hour.

I wasn't responsible for the title music - I was spared the honour, and the agony, of trying to replace Daniel Giorgetti's great theme - but new situations demanded new material and writing for character is something I particularly enjoy.

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The hidden depths to Randall Brown, the new head of news

Randall Brown, played by Peter Capaldi, is the new head of news and I suppose his music reflects his eccentricity and intellect, also his hidden emotional depths.

It seemed to work well alongside Peter's enigmatic performance. It's on a marimba which is like a big xylophone, with alto sax and acoustic bass.

I began my career as a percussionist in a rock band.

Bongos and Latin percussion, which had featured a little in the music for the first series, seemed ideal for Freddie Lyon (Ben Whishaw) with his Beatnik experiences and the fresh energy he brings to news reporting - we even gave him a little space-age Sputnik sound, like some sort of radio transmission, a sine wave through an echo effect.

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Freddie Lyons: Bongos and Latin percussion

The music for the nightclub hostess Kiki DeLaine and her boss Raphael Cilenti (Vincent Riotta) begins like a siren song and gets more obsessive and psychological as the story progresses.

I asked Helen Hamilton from the band Death Rattle to add a vocal to it - her voice has a similar haunting, girlish quality to Kiki's.

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Enter Kiki...

Although Bel is a central character, she doesn't often have music of her own; it's usually about the unfamiliar and sleazy surroundings in which she finds herself.

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Bel and Freddie's theme

There is a chiming piano and alto saxophone theme that accompanies her awkward interactions with Freddie - bittersweet and yearning.

Kevin Sargent is the composer on The Hour.

The Hour continues on Tuesdays at 9pm on BBC Two and BBC HD. For further programme times, please see the episode guide.

More on The Hour:
Guardian TV & Radio blog: Vicky Frost on The Hour episode by episode
Life Of Wylie: The Hour 2 Q&A transcript
Cultbox: The Hour series 2 episode 2 teasers

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

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  • Comment number 1.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 2.

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    Comment number 3.

    Excellent article. I enjoyed the first series a great deal and intend watching the new series in blocks of 3 episodes I think. I prefer not to have to wait for weekly tx these days. Love the cast, the period details, the feel - a splendid piece of UK TV drama. Will now look out for each of the music cues with this article in mind. Also thanks to the The BBC website for sharing insights into the how these programmes are put together.

  • Comment number 4.

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    Comment number 5.

    Does anyone know if the writers of The Hour are basing the news programme, at least partially, on the 1960s CBC show This Hour Has Seven Days?

    Not only was This Hour Has Seven Days shut down by the Canadian government because its approach and the questions it asked of government ministers, but a 1965 episode where a member of the American KKK was set up to talk to an African-American activist was surprisingly similar to episode 2 season 2 of The Hour.

    See:
    http://www.cbc.ca/75/2011/07/image-of-the-day-taking-on-the-grand-dragon.html

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    Comment number 6.

    Frankly, I think your interpretation of music for this period is excellent for modern ears, maybe because it is superior and slick. My own recall of British films, in particular from the early post war era, was an embarassing attempt to try and ape the American stylised cool jazz, as in their crime film noir output. Film/TV scores play a far more important roll these days in underlining and enhancing what is being played out on screen. It is unique to that story, and not plucked out of some library of oddments.

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    Comment number 7.

    This great show is occasionally spoilt for me by the language. Even badly educated Britons in the 50s would never have said "alternate view" (alternative) or "invite" (invitation). These are American mistakes that have crept into the language recently.
    I really doubt that anyone in the UK at that time used "bottom line" for "main point" or "down the line" for "on the phone". Maybe the scriptwriters are all under 30 but sadly, these anachronisms jar on my aged ear.

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    Comment number 8.

    They say that the best incidental music isn't noticed by the viewer. It wasn't - by me.
    But I am old enough to remember TV in the 50s/60s and frankly, the theme for 'The Hour' doesn't give any hint of the period. Think the 'Tonight' prgramme, or even 'Panorama' at the time.
    Sorry, no 'period feel'. Nothing personal, Kevin

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    Comment number 9.

    Ah, well, can't win 'em all, I suppose, but thanks for your post, Clancy. The original Panorama theme was an excerpt from a Rachmaninov's symphony, I understand. The Tonight theme was more 'Light Music' and jaunty in tone, and for us lacked a bit of drama. I suppose I think I was thinking, 'what would Malcolm Arnold have written if he had been approached?', as I am big fan of his work.

    Glad the incidental music slipped under the radar, though!

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    Comment number 10.

    We need a series for Marnie. Fantastic style, pretty colours, a clever cook. Would be much better than the usual cook programmes.

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    Comment number 11.

    Love this show, thank you.

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    Comment number 12.

    I thought Marnie had her series- Rachel Khoo in her retro Paris kitchen is very similar.
    Enjoying the music, though the club music could be more raw; also, they could have more of the vital West Indian influence in the music.
    Thanks for the info, Kevin- but the marimba (ie 'big xylophone') would have been exotic in the 50s; most of us know a little more now!

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    Comment number 13.

    'Other' and exotic was certainly part of what we were looking for for Randall - eccentric, widely-travelled and something of the anthropologist. In an early edit of the first episode, he was first discovered on his couch listening to obscure North African music.

  • Comment number 14.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

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    Comment number 15.

    Ciscowen is wrong about ‘invite’ [1659] and ‘alternate’ [1535] being anachronistic but right about ‘bottom line’. I am unclear how ‘down the line’ was used.

    As a 68-year-old journalist manque I was so gripped by the plot that I didn’t notice any anachronisms. Thank you for this excellent production & the music: I suggest a Cd of the music would do well.

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    Comment number 16.

    I somehow missed the first series, but later found it on an american website...and since then I have been totally hooked.
    As with the vast majority of BBC productions, this is Excellent.
    The sets, costumes, music, script, characters, all capture the 'Mood' of that era
    100% believable.
    Ben Whishaw (who btw was superb in the recent Hollow Crown) deserves special mention.
    Highly Recommended
    10 out of 10.
    I so look forward to the next series.

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    Comment number 17.

    I'm just enjoying the penultimate episode -and trying to avoid spoilers- the look, the score and especially the presence of Malcolm Tucker's dad.
    The odd anachronism of speech- missing adverbs, etc- one can overlook; however, when one of the nightclub girls says to Kiki, ''get bored of you, did he?'' I'm cheesed off that someone has been that lazy. That cannot be right!
    I am off message a bit, but I am missing the old message boards.

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    Comment number 18.

    What happened to my earlier comment? It's been three days now and no sign if it!

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    Comment number 19.

    diseqc switch
    Thanks to the The BBC website for sharing insights into the how these programmes are put together.

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    Comment number 20.

    A good series that was getting better - so in their infinite wisdom the BBC cancels it. This has 'quality BBC drama' written through it like a stick of rock, it's the kind of thing that is meant justify the often repeated claim that British TV drama is the 'best in the world'. But that's just not true any more, and part of the reason is the BBC chopping shows purely on the basis of ratings, as if it were a US commercial broadcaster disappointed by advertising revenue. The stated reason of allowing 'new drama to come through' is obvious PR flannel. What's the point of commissioning new stuff, when it's only going to be abruptly cancelled with no story resolution?

 

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