Sweet lavender 

1 September 2001 tbs.pm/1676

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Gavin Sutherland on the composer of the Thames ident

Johnny Hawksworth, composer of Thames Television’s ident and opening tune, was a double bass player at the beginning of his professional musical career, playing with, amongst others, Ted Heath and Geraldo.

In actual fact it comes as no surprise that most of the Heath and Geraldo musicians ended up in TV orchestras, some even as conductors or composers themselves. Jack Parnell, Reg Owen and Johnny Hawksworth himself walked this well-trodden path.

I heard from Jack Parnell that the musicians in his band used to refer to the ATV studios in Elstree as “Fort Knox”, since anyone working there based in London would have to be paid an overnight subsistence, despite easily being able to make it back to London by car or train.

Jack cites the story of the end of a long day followed by a drive back to London, when all of a sudden a car passes him with two of his trumpeters blowing the Overture to Monteverdi’s “Orfeo” from the windows.

Hawksworth was a very prolific arranger by the end of the 1960s, having, like so many others, learned his trade the hard way “on the road”. He had composed one or two nondescript theme tunes, but hit it big with the second theme to ABC’s famous “Thank Your Lucky Stars”, a piece called ‘Lunar Walk’ – a big razzle-dazzle organ and bigband number that fair blows the socks off.

He became a staff arranger at ABC with other industry notables, including Bernard Ebbinghouse, known for ‘The Human Jungle’ as well as being chief arranger for Opportunity Knocks throughout its massive run, and for composing the heart-stopping linking chords from the Thames era of This is Your Life.

The department was also home to Ted Brennan, Paul Lewis, Alan Braden, later head of light entertainment music at Thames, and the department head, the legendary Bob Sharples, “Uncle Bob” to everyone, except his staff, who found him rather unhelpful and usually unreliable – Paul Lewis says they used to call him “Bob Shambles” behind his back.

When the new Thames Television was formed in 1968, the decision from on high was to keep “Perpetuum Mobile” and commission a shorter piece and associated jingle package. Hawksworth came up with a jingle, based on a London folk song, so memorable that it is still easily recalled nowadays by the youngest of people. Subtle variations of this memorable piece later appeared, including “here they are now, Morecambe and Wise” and Kenny Everett’s choral version.

And so it is that the “Salute to Thames” not only features this theme heavily, but also manages, Peter Knight-like, to encompass so many musical styles in such a short space of time. The fanfare gives way to a very stately string theme, and although the screaming trumpets and stab brass chords later on do rather throw the mood a bit, as does the time-killing harp glissando and timpani roll near the end, you cannot help but love the piece, if only for the astronomic horn writing, that brings to mind the soaring lines brought to life by arranger Conrad Salinger for MGM musicals of the 50s and 60s.

Suggested Further Listening

There are plenty of Ted Heath Band CDs available now, though you’d have to hunt for those that credit arrangers. “Lunar Walk” has been on quite a few Castle Communications CDs of TV theme compilations.

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