This page has been archived and is no longer updated.Find out more about page archiving.

Great TV and radio theme tunes become recognisable to us in a way that hardly any other music does, apart from perhaps the Happy Birthday song and God Save the Queen. They become intrinsically connected to very specific memories, often of childhood, and yet most of us often know nothing about who wrote them and how they came into being.

We look at nine BBC themes, all of which have fascinating stories behind them.

1. The rhythmic pattern of the Archers theme can be traced back to the 12th century

[LISTEN] Barwick Green played by the Gurkha Band at Sandhurst

Radio 4's The Archers, on air since 1951, uses a theme tune that's even older - Barwick Green, a maypole dance taken from a suite called My Native Heath, written in 1924 by Yorkshireman Arthur Wood. Its rhythmic pattern - dum ti dum ti dum ti dum - was popular at the time and is echoed in two pieces of classical music written soon after: Prokofiev's Montagues and Capulets from Romeo and Juliet (which you'll also know as The Apprentice theme tune) and the Playful Pizzicato of Benjamin Britten's Simple Symphony:

Outright theft? Depends on how you look at it. In his book The Story of Music, Howard Goodall writes that 12th century composer Pérotin was also a fan of the pattern and used it throughout a hymn he wrote in 1198, Viderunt omnes:

Bonus Barwick Green factoid: In 2004, Radio 4's Today informed listeners that the theme was being "refreshed and updated" with a new remix by Brian Eno. The date of their report? April 1. And speaking of Brian Eno…

2. Arena once made a film about being asked what their theme tune is

It really wasn't that long ago that if you didn't know what a BBC programme's theme tune was, your options were basically four-fold: ask a mate who might know about such things, look it up in the Encyclopedia Britannica, ring the BBC, or write to them.

Before the days of automated song recognition services, documentary series Arena received countless letters from viewers asking what their theme tune was (and still is): Brian Eno's Another Green World from 1975. They collected them and when they moved from their offices in BBC's Television Centre in 2013 they shared some in a lovely six-minute film (above) that makes you pine for the days when people still put pen to paper.

3. The composer of the EastEnders theme began writing it when he was seven

Above, you can enjoy a choir of dogs barking the EastEnders theme on Animal Rescue Live in 2007. The tune with it's classic 'doof doof' opening is one of the most recognisable pieces of music in the UK, if not the most recognisable (a 2008 poll by PRS for Music suggested it was - it beat God Save the Queen).

Officially, it was composed by Simon May in 1984, ahead of the soap launching in February 1985. In an interview with BBC News last year, however, May suggested the genesis of the tune goes much further back in time - to when the songwriter, now 71, was just seven. His piano teacher was teaching him scales, and from those scales he came up with its melody.

4. The composer of the Panorama theme also wrote the music for softcore erotica film Emmanuelle 2

BBC One's Panorama is the world's longest-running current affairs television programme and, since it was first broadcast in 1953, it's used three different theme tunes. The current one, which has been in use since the late-60s in different forms (it was most recently adapted by David Lowe), is a track called Aujourd'hui C'est Toi (Today It's You) by French composer Francis Lai (above).

Rather than being written exclusively for Panorama, Aujourd'hui C'est Toi is taken from A Man and a Woman, a classic 1966 French film for which Lai wrote the score. Lai, who's 84, is a celebrated composer for film and TV with a long CV, including writing the music for the softcore erotica flick Emmanuelle 2 with Pierre Bachelet.

Bonus Aujourd'hui C'est Toi factoid: the tune was remixed in 2001 for a Panorama special on Jeffrey Archer with spectacularly funky results.

5. Delia Derbyshire never received a royalty for her work on the Doctor Who theme

The Doctor Who theme is perhaps the most significant piece of electronic music ever composed. It was written in 1963 by an Australian, Ron Grainer, and famously taken to the BBC Radiophonic Workshop to be reimagined in a structures sonore ('sonorous sculptures') style, as former employee Brian Hodgson explains above.

The job was handed to Delia Derbyshire, who worked with sound engineer Dick Mills on Grainer's vague idea to add spacey-sounding "wind bubbles and cloudy things" to his melody. It took Delia as long as a month to perfect the tune, to the delight of Grainer. "Jeez Delia, did I write that!?" he asked, to which Delia replied, "Most of it, Ron."

Graciously, Grainer suggested that Derbyshire should receive half of the royalties, but that wasn't allowed - because she was a BBC staffer on a salary. "She never got her half," Hodgson says, "otherwise she would have been a very rich woman."

6. The Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em theme incorporates Morse code into its opening bars

You may have to be of a certain age to remember the hit BBC sitcom Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em (it ran for just three series between 1973 and 1978), but it was in the news again in 2007 when the composer of its theme, Ronnie Hazlehurst, died.

A titan of TV themes (he also wrote the tunes for Yes Minister, Are You Being Served?, Only Fools and Horses and Last of the Summer Wine), Ronnie liked playing musical jokes and many obituaries reported an urban legend - that he'd incorporated Morse code spelling out ‘Some Mothers Do Ave Em’ (minus the apostrophes) in the opening bars of the theme, by having each note correspond to the Morse code alphabet.

To test the theory, BBC News asked 6 Music to produce a score of the music. The result of their investigation? "Indeed, the opening melody played out by the piccolos, spells the title."

7. The writer of the the Match of the Day theme doesn't even like football

Match of the Day's current theme debuted in 1970 (see above) to much controversy: viewers weren't happy with the original tune - Drum Majorette, written by Major Leslie Statham, band leader of the Welsh Guards - being replaced. But it quickly became iconic and is used today largely unchanged from the version writer Barry Stoller recorded in the basement of his house with just two other musicians.

In 2014, as Match of the Day celebrated 50 years on the air, Stoller spoke about his enduring theme for the first time to the BBC and also the Daily Mail. He told the latter that his tune was recorded professionally after it was selected from a list of six, but the demo sounded better and ended up on the programme.

Also, he admitted that he's no football fan: "In general, I'm not really a sports-minded person, but I thought about the crowds, all the thousands and millions of people that go to matches. There's excitement, there's joy, there's a euphoria in the air. It's electrifying and I thought if I can catch that energy - that magic of the people - and get it into the music then that would be it. That's what I wanted to do and somehow it got in there."

Bonus Barry Stoller factoid: he also wrote some of the music used in 1978 horror flick Dawn of the Dead.

8. Wimbledon and Grandstand's theme writer has been heavily sampled by hip hop producers

Barry Stoller was at least thinking of football when he wrote the Match of the Day theme. In many other cases, music is simply sourced from library, or mood, records and matched to a particular programme. Such was the case with two other classic BBC Sport themes - Grandstand (an unnamed track, initially) and Wimbledon (Light and Tuneful), both of which were written by Keith Mansfield, who composed music for production company KPM.

Mansfield's songs - some of the best library music ever recorded, often with crack bands - has slipped out into the public domain in other ways. Funky Fanfare, from 1969, was licensed by Quentin Tarantino for Kill Bill and Grindhouse, and it was also sampled by Danger Mouse on the Danger Doom track Old School. Danger Mouse (above) has used other Mansfield songs (Junior Jet Set for the Gnarls Barkley's Run and Morning Broadway for another Danger Doom track, Space Ho's), as have Action Bronson (KPM 1190) and Madlib, who sampled Party Time in 2014, the music that Chris Evans uses for sports reports on his Radio 2 Breakfast Show.

Listen to a half-hour 6 Music mix of library music featuring Keith Mansfield.

9. For two years, quiz show Give Us a Clue used the same theme as Grange Hill

Another giant of library/mood music is Alan Hawkshaw, who wrote the original, brilliant theme for children's drama series Grange Hill (a song called Chicken Man that was taken from the above album with the dodgy cover, we discovered recently) as well as the signature tunes for Countdown and Channel 4 News.

Chicken Man was composed just an hour before it was recorded in a studio in Germany in 1975 and, strangely, was also used as the theme for the Michael Aspel-presented quiz show Give Us a Clue (albeit in a different form) for two years between 1979 and 1981.

And there's another odd case of doubling up in Hawkshaw's career: according to an interview in a recent Radio 4 documentary, The Lost Art of the Theme Tune, Channel 4 News didn't secure permanent exclusivity rights to Hawkshaw's theme, resulting in its also being used for the trailer for 1985 Clint Eastwood western Pale Rider:

Related links

Added item image
Added, go to My Music to see full list.
More from