Sunday, 3 May 2009

Nice one, Ron

Ron Grainer is the writer of some of the best and most famous television theme tunes since the medium was invented. Three of them, ‘Steptoe & Son’, ‘Tales of The Unexpected’ and ‘Dr. Who’ will be instantly identifiable to almost everybody in the country even though, ironically, Ron himself did not recognise his own work when Delia Derbyshire played him the Radiophonic version of the Dr. Who theme for the first time: “Did I really write that?” he asked in amazement. He wanted to give Derbyshire a composer credit and royalty, but this was denied by the good old BBC, who liked their employees to remain anonymous and poor.

Australian by birth, Ron came to England in the fifties, just in time for the TV boom. His first notable theme was for ‘Maigret’, the ‘Inspector Morse’ of its day, with Ron bringing out the sinister side of an accordion to memorable effect, before providing those all-time classic BBC themes and a raft of music for ITC action serials, most notably ‘Danger Man’ (cues and incidentals), ‘Man In A Suitcase’ (the theme later reused by ‘TFI Friday) and the amazing opening music to ‘The Prisoner’, a clear cut demonstration of Ron’s genius in that it absolutely complements the action onscreen, creates an anticipatory mood in the viewer AND stands alone as a memorable tune that you can hum on the bus.

Although his career was relatively short and his CV select (he died at only 59), his name on the credits always indicates something worth listening to, whether it be his gentle tunes for ‘A Kind Of Loving’ or the records he wrote and produced for guitar instrumental group The Eagles (including a new version of the ‘Maigret’ theme that might just be the twangiest recording of all time). When he got the chance to write for the big screen he made the absolute most of it, scoring the confidence trickster caper ‘Only When I Larf’ for marching band and Whistling Jack Smith, and providing dystopian sci-fi vampire classic ‘The Omega Man’ with a brilliant blend of elegant flute, lush strings and burbling electronics.

But why take my word for it, when you can hear an alternate, beefier version of ‘The Prisoner’, put your lips together and blow along to ‘Only When I Larf’, and pretend you’re the last man on Earth with ‘On The Tumbril’ from the wonderful Omega Man soundtrack.

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