Ron Grainer’s classic film and TV themes from the Sixties

For my tenth birthday I received a copy of the MFP record Geoff Love and His Orchestra Play Your Top TV Themes. MFP was the acronym for “Music for Pleasure” a low budget English record label formed between EMI records and book publishers, Paul Hamlyn. MFP released session musicians performing hits of the day, or artists from the EMI back catalog. The local supermarket had a carousel of MFP discs, ranging from Frank Sinatra, Semprini, Edith Piaf, Dean Martin, Benny Hill, Liberace, to The Beach Boys, The Monkees, The Move, Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd and T.Rex.

There was an unspoken consensus amongst my peers, that If it was MFP then it was suspect; as MFP was either ersatz, or some original recording that had bombed. I knew what they meant, but didn’t agree. I thought of it more like a book club edition, if you couldn’t afford the top dollar for the first print run edition, then there was always MFP.

Music for Pleasure, in many ways, gave me a good musical education. The first record I bought, at a rummage sale, when I was 5, was Russ Conway’s “Snow Coach”. From this jaunty instrumental, I progressed on to the magic of Herb Alpert via The Tijuana Sound of Brass, Edith Piaf, Johnny Cash and Beethoven. While my older brother fed me The Stones, The Beatles, The Beach Boys, The Move, and later T.Rex, and Bowie.

Music was key, along with books, films and TV, and whenever any of these fused, it was something special. Remember this was the sixties, the early seventies, there were no pop promos - only The Monkees on TV, and later Ken Russell’s Tommy in the cinema.

This was why I liked MFP, which released records that were often compiled of tracks unavailable elsewhere, like Geoff Love and His Orchestra Play Your Top TV Themes. Where else would you find the sophistication of John Barry’s “Theme to The Persuaders” next to “Sleepy Shores”, the theme for Owen M.D.? Or, Mort Stevens’ “Hawaii Five-O” on the same side as Geoff Love’s jolly sit-com theme “Bless This House”

Geoff Love was a hero. A black trombone player from Yorkshire, who when not writing theme tunes, worked with Shirley Bassey and entertainer Max Bygraves. Geoff Love arranged and recorded a whole library of theme tunes for MFP, including Big War Movie Themes and Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Other Disco Galactic Themes. Each album was a wonderful aural adventure, where part of the enjoyment was working out what Love had done to replicate or improve upon the original theme. For that reason Your Top TV Themes, was and still is a class album. 

This liking for signature tunes brought me to Ron Grainer, who in many respects wrote some of the themes that best defined British TV in the 1960s.

Grainer was born in Queensland, Australia, and studied under Sir Eugene Goosens at the New South Wales Conservatorium of Music. His studies were cut short by the Second World War, which saw the young composer seriously wounded - nearly losing his leg. After the war, Grainer moved to England where he began his career in earnest as a composer and musician.

In the 1950s, Grainer collaborated with the BBC Radiophonic Workshop on variety of projects, most famously on his theme for Doctor Who. The success of this track was in part due to Delia Derbyshire, whose hard work re-interpreting Grainer’s composition, note-by-note, made it unforgettable. When Grainer heard what Derbyshire had done, he could hardly contain his delight. Grainer said “Did I really write this?” to which Derbyshire replied, got the answer “Most of it.”

Together they had produced a work of brilliance. Grainer wanted to give a co-credit to Derbyshire, but the dear olde fuddy-duddies at the bureaucratic BBC preferred to keep their talents under a bushel. Damn shame, as Derbyshire deserved much recognition for her pioneering work.

Original ‘Doctor Who’ Theme (1963)
In 1967, Grainer wrote “The Age of Elegance”, which became a perfect synthesis of image and sound in Patrick McGoohan’s The Prisoner.

More classic Grainer themes from the sixties, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher
09:16 pm
Delia Derbyshire: Mother of Electronic Music



Delia Derbyshire is most famous for the Doctor Who theme. Although she did not actually compose the music, it was her arrangement of the piece that has made it one of the most instantly recognizable TV theme tunes of all time:

In 1963, soon after joining the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, Delia Derbyshire was asked to to realize one of the first electronic signature tunes ever used on television. It was Ron Grainer’s score for a new science fiction series, Doctor Who.

Grainer had worked his tune to fit in with the graphics. He used expressions for the noises he wanted - such as wind, bubbles, and clouds. It was a world without synthesizers, samplers and multi-track tape recorders; Delia, assisted by her engineer Dick Mills, had to create each sound from scratch.

She used concrete sources and sine- and square-wave oscillators, tuning the results, filtering and treating, cutting so that the joins were seamless, combining sound on individual tape recorders, re-recording the results, and repeating the process, over and over again. When Grainer heard the result, his response was “Did I really write that?”

“Most of it,” Delia replied.

She was also in an avant garde pop group (using electronic sounds long before Kraftwerk) called Unit Delta Plus:

Perhaps the most famous event that Unit Delta Plus participated in was the 1967 Million Volt Light and Sound Rave at London’s Chalk Farm roundhouse, organised by designers Binder, Edwards and Vaughan (who had previously been hired by Paul McCartney to decorate a piano). The event took place over two nights (January 28th and February 4th 1967) and included a performance of tape music by Unit Delta Plus, as well as a playback of the legendary Carnival of Light, a fourteen minute sound collage assembled by McCartney around the the time of the Beatles’ Penny Lane sessions.

She was in later group called White Noise and they recorded an extremely strange, harsh and very futuristic album in 1969 called An Electric Storm—it’s pretty evil sounding—that’s been embraced by today’s electronic music fans. She also contributed music to the classic British 70s sci-fi series, The Tomorrow People, but by the 70s she was starting to show signs of depression and left the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. She worked in a few other soundtrack factories, then a bookstore, then an art gallery but generally drifted away from her musical career, becoming a severe alcoholic. She died in 2001 as her earlier recordings were were beginning to come out on CD and as her influence on modern electronic music was at last being acknowledged.


Delia Derbyshire website

Lost tapes of the Dr Who composer includes several audio samples and a proto “dance” track from the 60s

Delia Derbyshire, producer of Doctor Who theme music, has legacy restored

Delia Derbyshire Obituary

Posted by Richard Metzger
06:08 pm
The Doctor Who Theme Music Throughout the Years
08:36 pm

It’s Doctor Who week here at Dangerous Minds! Feast your ears on one of the most iconic sci-fi theme tunes—not to mention opening credit sequences—in TV history. Composed by Ron Grainer, but actually “constructed” by BBC Radiophonic Workshop employee Delia Derbyshire (more on her later in the week), the Doctor Who theme music is considered a landmark in the development of electronic music. Its distinctly shimmering sonics, elevator cable bassline and crystalline melody were recorded many years before commercially available synthesizers were available. In this clip you can hear several permutations of the theme from throughout the years. Although I like all of them, I like the 80s themes the least. It just got over-embellished. When Russell T. Davies revived the Doctor from his long hibernation in 2005, he and composer Murray Gold wisely moved back towards the original 60s theme, but adding a nice modern orchestral twist. It’s like outer-space Wagner!

Here is Orbital’s version!

Posted by Richard Metzger
08:36 pm