HOLDING ON

This was a six episode family drama set in pre-World War One London dockside starring Michael Elphick as a stevedore. It was suggested by London Weekend Television that my theme tune might make a good song with which to promote the series. They needed someone to write a lyric. To my astonishment they approached Sir John Betjeman, distinguished Poet Laureate. This was rather like asking Anton Chekov to pen a few lines for a commercial but to everyone’s delight, especially mine, Betjeman agreed, and a copy of my theme was sent off to him. Several weeks went by. I’d heard nothing so phoned London Weekend to see if there as any news with the lyric and was told that Sir John was still working on it. After several more weeks I got a call asking me to meet with Sir John at his home in Chelsea, which I did. He greeted me effusively and over a cup of coffee in his living room, admitted he’d had a slight problem setting words to my music.

“Is it the melody?” I asked, concerned. 

“Goodness gracious no! It’s a very nice tune,” Sir John said. “It’s me! This sort of thing doesn’t come naturally. I’ve never done it before. But I’ve had a go! Would you care to, er, see the results of my efforts?” he asked, rather apologetically. On the headed sheet of stationery he handed me were typed the following few words:

HOLDING ON, HOLDING ON,

AREN’T I GLAD, WITH THE JOB I HAD,

FROM MY DAD, HOLDING ON THROUGH THE......

“I’m afraid that’s it,” Sir John said. “What do you think?” and before I had a chance to respond, he added, “It’s not very good is it?” then laughed and stood up. “Let’s go and have some lunch!” he said and we spent a delightful afternoon around the corner at his favourite restaurant chatting about everything except the song and consuming an excellent bottle of Valpolicella. Never saw the man again.

Meanwhile, my music publisher, David Platz, had sent a cassette of my theme to Anthony Newley in Los Angeles, who wrote and recorded a lyric for the “Holding On” theme tune while sitting poolside in Beverly Hills. I thought it rather good but it was turned down. Albert Finney, with whom I as working at the time, then asked if he might have a go at it, and within the week he came back to me with a lovely lyric but it too was rejected by LWT and eventually Myles Rudge, well known for such songs as “HOLE IN THE GROUND”, “RIGHT SAID FRED” and “A WINDMILL IN OLD AMSTERDAM” put pen to paper and came up with a lyric which Clive Dunn recorded in 1976, as did a pub singer and former East End dockworker that producer Paul Knight had found, named Darkie Savage. In the end, no vocal recording at all used for the series and as far as I know I’m the only one who has a copy of any of them.  Denis King

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Denis appeared with his hero, Frank Sinatra, at the Royal Festival Hall in 1962

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