TV THEMES


Two people helped me enormously when I started writing music for television. One was Dudley Moore, the other was Harry Rabinowitz. Dudley, a close friend, gave me the confidence. Harry, then head of music at London Weekend Television, gave me the technique. 

At the time, the early 1970s, one had neither the benefit of video nor click track to work with. While this didn’t affect writing the theme, composing the underscore (background music) for each individual episode was a different story. In “Black Beauty” for example, a series which had fifty-two episodes, I had only one opportunity to view each episode, and that was in the cutting room at the studio on what was called a Moviola machine. I’d take notes and rough timings, go home, and then at the piano in my office attempt to remember what in hell I’d seen earlier: was this her getting on the horse or off the horse or the horse rearing up or...Christ, maybe the horse had gone by this point! The whole task seemed impossible. 

When eventually it came to the recording, Harry Rabinowitz, conducting, saved my life. Magically, he made my music fit, even if I hadn’t written enough or written too much, and after each session had finished, he would patiently take me through the scores and show me how to improve for next time. 

Kings Comment

Life is much easier today, technically. Although, of course, you still have to come up with the goods.  Denis King

THEMES

IF IT MOVES, FILE IT (1970)
KINDLY LEAVE THE KERB (1971)
FENN STREET GANG (1971)
NOW LOOK HERE (1971)
BLACK BEAUTY (52 episodes 1972-73 Ivor Novello Award Best TV Theme 1973) - click here to purchase iTunes
WITHIN THESE WALLS (1972-73)
BETWEEN THE WARS (1973)
NOT ON YOUR NELLIE (1974)
THE PRINCE OF DENMARK (1974)
THE ROUGH WITH THE SMOOTH (1975)
ROOMS (1975)
THE FOSTERS (1976)
TWO'S COMPANY (1976 lyric, Sammy Cahn) - click here for more
YUS, MY DEAR (1976 lyric, Myles Rudge)
JUST WILLIAM (1977)
HOLDING ON (1977) - click here for more
A ROOF OVER MY HEAD (1977)
LONDON BELONGS TO ME  (1977)
TARGETS  (1977)
THE LAW CENTRE  (1977)
TWO PEOPLE  (1977)
VIVE LA DIFFERENCE (1977)
HOW TO STAY ALIVE (1977
END OF PART ONE (1978)
LOVELY COUPLE (1978)
ARMCHAIR THRILLER (1978)
JUKES OF PICCADILLY (1979)
TOGETHER (1979)
HOW’S YOUR FATHER (1979 lyric, Myles Rudge)
SURVIVAL (1979)
HOLDING THE FORT (1979)
NOBODY’S PERFECT (1980)
DICK TURPIN (26 episodes 1980 - 82)
RHUBARB, RHUBARB (1980)
STAINLESS STEEL AND THE STAR SPIES (1980)
FANCY WANDERS (1980)
IF YOU GO DOWN TO THE WOODS (1981)
WORZEL GUMMIDGE (1981)
DON’T ROCK THE BOAT (1982)
PASSWORD (1982)
WE'LL MEET AGAIN (1982 - 83)
LET THERE BE LOVE (1983)
THE KIT CURRAN RADIO SHOW (1983)
NOW AND THEN (1983 - 4)
WE’RE GOING TO BE ALL RIGHT (1984)
GIVE US A CLUE (1984)
BOTTLE BOYS (1985 lyric, Myles Rudge) - click here for more
MINDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (1985)
SMUGGLER (12 episodes 1985)
ALL AT NUMBER 20 (1985 - 86)
LOVEJOY (80 episodes 1986 - 95) - click here for more 
THE FOOLS ON THE HILL (1986)
YESTERDAY’S HUDDLINES (1987)
A DAY TO REMEMBER (1987)
FFIZZ (1987)
WISH ME LUCK (1988)
THE WORST WITCH (1988)
RUNNING WILD (1988)
HANNAY (1988-89)
SNAKES AND LADDERS (1989)
TAKING THE FLOOR (1989)
ABOUT FACE (1990 - 91)
THE BRIGHT SIDE (1991 lyric, Willis Hall)
MOON AND SON (1993)
HEAVY WEATHER (1995)
OUT OF SIGHT (1996)
MADSON (1998)

KINGS' COMMENTS:


When I first came to England, Denis was temporarily ensconced in a small second floor sublet on Belsize Crescent and every morning after breakfast would shut himself in a broom closet they call a second bedroom over here, into which a piano had been inserted, and compose (or decompose, as he says), frantically trying to finish the background music (“scoring” it’s called) for a TV series called “Dick Turpin”, about a highwayman in the 1700s, and there was a lot of music to gallop-by and swordfight-with around the place. I’d find myself moving fast, opening and closing cabinets, chewing, to the beat (or to what I think is the beat: when I was sixteen I was Worst Lead Singer in a local rock band; they gave me a tambourine once but then took it away about two seconds later because I couldn’t count, which was too bad, because I liked how I looked playing it, even though I got big bruises on my thighs). Den apologized, and said that ever since he’d done a TV series called “Black Beauty” and the theme had won all kinds of awards, he’d been inundated with horse-type work, but work is work, he said, and you don’t complain until it stops. (At which point, I notice, you whinge about it until the cows come home.) 

 

Speaking of not complaining, I also notice that composers play the same couple of bars over and over and over until you want to yell “Okay! Okay! Make up your mind! Do you want it or don’t you?” but what’s happening, Den says, is that you’re not just writing for the piano, you’re doing it for the full orchestra (called the “line-up”), meaning the composer hears that same couple of bars not as some mind-numbing license to kill, but as trombones, violas, drums, flugal horns and so on. 

“Darling heart,” he said one grey wet day as I sat watching Belsize Crescent turn into a Thames tributary, “could you possibly give me a hand sorting out the band parts for tomorrow’s session? I’d be extremely grateful."

“Sure!” I said, flattered. “What are band parts?" 

Well. Band parts. You have to hear this. When musicians arrive for a recording session, be it for cast albums, television, film, whatever, they don’t get handed the whole score, they only get to see his or her own parts i.e. the flute player only gets music marked FLUTE, the drums player DRUMS, and so on, and won’t know what the alto saxophonists or flugal horners will be doing, but apparently this doesn’t matter, but wait. 

How it worked was Den would compose the whole score on his piano for whatever instruments he thought right (thesedays with the help of computers and Alex our twenty-five year-old whiz who’s rung about every twenty seconds to sort out why’s there suddenly no sound or where the trumpets went). Den would then call his fixer, named George, who fixed, meaning booked, musicians, not drugs, and would drop off the whole score, which was on very large music paper, at his copyist’s, a man named John, who would copy out all the musicians’ parts individually in black ink onto smaller sheets of music paper, then return them to Den after ringing the doorbell and mumbling “John, here” into the intercom. These smaller sheets were what I’d sort.  

They had to be separated not only according to player but stacked in the order in which they’d be recorded. For example, TROMBONE 1M 1 would stand for the first music cue for the trombone in Episode 1, and you go on up to however many cues there were, TROMBONE 1M 2, TROMBONE 1M 3 and so on, and they’d go face down, starting with 1, and you’d do it for every instrument.  

This was all pretty kindergarten stuff and I’d get on the floor of the livingroom and separate and sort and stack and then check it all a few times that some second violin hadn’t sneaked into my first violins making me look bad, and was very happy to be of musical use.

Next morning at the studio, I’d watch as Den leapt around setting these (excellently-sorted) band parts onto the right music stands--who sits where having already been figured out by the studio engineer, who also arranged low sound-proof walls on wheels to separate the players so their mikes don't pick up spill from other instruments (or something).  The musicans would start filtering in to set up and tune up and swig tea and laugh and joke, and I’d watch and wonder about musician jokes that end with side-splitters like “So he played it in F!” or about whatever made the percussionist decide to become a percussionist, you ought to see the ton of equipment he has to schlep around. (I wanted to play the harp until I realized you had to carry it; I don’t much care for skiing either.) 

These were all top session players, the cream of Britain’s musicians and Den was always thrilled to have them. They seemed happy to be there too, one of them was always coming up to me to say how much he liked Den’s music and always looked forward to his sessions. I’d beam and say thank you, like I taught him everything he knows.

Sharp on the hour, because producers worry about overtime, Denis would be in Toscanini position on the podium, facing the band, conductor’s baton in hand, looking cute, wearing earphones (called “cans”), and I’d be in the control room watching through a big window and wondering how long before I knocked my styrofoam coffee all over the important-looking control desk. When the sound engineer signaled “Ready!”, Den would snap his fingers to the right tempo, wait for the film footage to come up on a big screen, say “All right chaps, ladies, a one two three and.." and at exactly the right second, these people would play what he’d written, note perfect, the first time round. 

Are you not stunned?  

I play the piano a little and am speechless, still, after all this time. I’d still be trying to work out what key signature three flats is. It was only a rehearsal, but I’d be knocked out by the talent in the room. Sometimes, after a take, Den would turn and smile at me through the window and say “Okay for you, honeybunch?” and I’d give the thumbs up and say “Good for me!” over the tannoy so everyone would hear and they'd laugh and I’d feel warm and a part of things. It’s the closest I ever get to being one of the gang. 

Okay now how here’s the real kicker. 

We know these musicians don’t have the whole score in front of them, right? And are only seeing what their flute or whatever is supposed to be doing? Well, listen to this, listen to what they have to do. They have to count. Count! Count the beats to know where to come in, where to stop, where to come in again, where to shut up and so on all the way through. I was, and am, hugely, unbelievably, fantastically impressed. And will be out buying a tambourine any day now. 

Den says he’s always impressed too, that the fun part for the composer is hearing all those dots on paper come alive. Whoof! he says. The sound of music! A total high. He says he’s always surprised when it sounds okay. What an endearingly modest little thing for the little thing to admit.  Astrid King

Key Changes

Black Beauty

Fact of the Day

At age 15, Denis was performing six shows a day at London's famous Windmill Theatre but was not allowed to wait in the wings for his entrance with his older brothers because they followed the naked Fan Dancer act---Denis had fifteen seconds to race down five flights from the dressing room to be onstage when the curtain went up.

King Brothers Album

Listening Post

Awaking Beauty


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