The quest for Arne 

1 January 2002

Richard Elen has been searching for 35 years for one tune

One of the things for which the internet, despite its faults, is to be praised is its ability to bring together people scattered across the globe who share a common interest, however it may seem obscure that interest might be.

Thus it was with great surprise recently that I stumbled across the collection of websites that form to find that not one but several hundred contributors had had the same experience as me – an experience that I had previous thought of as being unique. Like others who have written around this topic, there were occasions during the mid-sixties when I was not well enough to go to school and instead watched the Schools programming on TV – and discovered Rediffusion’s interlude music.

My parents, brother and two sisters had recently moved from Coventry to a house in Richmond Road, Kingston-upon-Thames. We had acquired what must have been our first, rented television, with a seventeen-inch screen, on which I had watched the first episode of Doctor Who. But at least as memorable were those ITV Schools Interludes, broadcast by Associated Rediffusion in the mid-sixties.

They were more memorable than the programmes themselves, certainly, and the music stuck with me. In fact it stuck with me forever. I had always been interested in music, and by this time I had sung in Coventry Cathedral Choir and was an avid listener to the Third Programme and beyond – an ancient general coverage receiver in my bedroom gave me access to shortwave too. But among the TV test card music, the offshore watery wireless stations, and my sister’s Beatles records, somehow these pieces stood out.

For those who don’t remember them – and perhaps for those who do – there were two Interludes, played between the afternoon’s Schools programming. Each consisted of a handful of pieces of music, followed by a pause, and then a final piece, during which the grey interlude caption was replaced by a clock, counting down and disappearing as the start of the next programme approached.

All the tunes remained with me, but it was that last piece that was always clearest in my mind. What was it? I had to know.

Before long, TV moved on, and I moved on, and not only were those interludes no longer played, I was no longer there to hear them. I went to college in nearby Twickenham and then moved into communications and ultimately into the recording industry.

Ultimately, I became the studio manager of a little recording studio in London’s Denmark Street, owned by EMI Music, and named after a music publishing company I’d never heard of before: KPM – Keith Prowse Maurice. I started working with composers whose names appear in Transdiffusion’s various microsites – Johnny Pearson, Keith Mansfield and Brian Bennett to name but three – and I discovered Library Music and how much it had been a part of British television’s history. I also discovered that KPM had previously been owned by, of all people, Rediffusion.

That tune had never gone away. I tried humming it to my boss at KPM, but he didn’t recognise it (his predecessor, Robin Philips, might have been a better bet, but he had gone on to found Bruton Music by then and I never asked him).

I found an extensive cache of 78s in the basement behind the studio from the days of yore – Francis Day and Hunter’s erstwhile music library – and while I found several pieces from the test cards and other TV music of years gone by (including Non Stop, by J. Malcolm and his orchestra, then still the ITN theme, and I even got to edit the piece of music used for News At Ten), That Piece never came to light.

I’d always been interested in broadcasting, too, and having sailed too close to the wind with the limitations of British radio broadcasting in the early seventies, I had ultimately gravitated towards amateur radio.

By now driving regularly between Croydon, where I was editing the recording magazine ‘Studio Sound’, and West Hampstead I was listening one day to the 2-metre VHF repeater at Crystal Palace and caught the tail end of a conversation in which I gathered that one of the participants had formerly worked for Rediffusion. I called him back as soon as I could and asked him if he knew the pieces of music I remembered. Yes he did, he told me – in fact it had been his job to put the discs on!

I never knew his last name, and his first name has now faded from memory. But he earned my undying gratitude by sending me a cassette copy of the music in question – plus several other things, including Rediffusion’s 1955-56 afternoon and evening start-up sequences. He was also kind enough to list the pieces of music used in the Interludes. Here is the list:

Schools Interlude – 1: Serious Doll, A Wagon Passes, Merry Doll, Aubade; 5 seconds silence; Arne. Schools Interlude – 2: Dreaming, Busy-ness, 18th Century Suite, 5 seconds silence, Arne.

The first four pieces in the first interlude, and the first two in the second, were from Elgar’s Nursery Suite. He transferred a copy of a ‘Music For Pleasure’ LP of the suite – and as soon as Chandos released a performance on CD, I went and bought it.

So That Piece was by Arne – Thomas Arne, 1710-1778, the 18th Century British composer who is best known today for writing ‘Rule Britannia’. But what was That Piece called? One answer, at least, was a few years more in coming, when one night I was listening to Classic FM and heard a harpsichord playing That Tune.

Suddenly glued to the loudspeakers, I discovered that the tune was the Allegro from Thomas Arne’s ‘G Major Sonata for Harpsichord’. But what I wanted was a small orchestral arrangement. I found an album that looked a likely candidate – but it too featured solo harpsichord only. And that was as far as I got.

Again, a few years went by. From time to time I would ask friends, people who might know, musicologists, classical recording engineers, but to no avail. And then suddenly there was the internet. I started doing searches and ultimately, up something came. There were references to Arne, and to ITV Schools music… in the same place! And also, here in the pages of, was another name for it: “Finale from ‘A Dance Suite'”.

The only trouble is, I can find absolutely nothing on a piece by Arne called anything like a Dance Suite. Is it perhaps a corruption of the name on my list for the previous item in Interlude 2, the mysterious “18th Century Suite” – a suite of five short pieces for small chamber orchestra? That’s another item I would dearly like to know more about.

Are they both by Arne? Unless the name is simply a rough label given by someone at Rediffusion to the suite, probably not. The size of the orchestra appears different – the “Arne” has a fuller orchestration – and “18th Century Suite” sounds like the name a modern composer might give to something “in the style of…” – perhaps even library music, and in fact I had looked for it during my time at KPM, with no success.

But at least I have copies of the original broadcast performances, albeit on cassette, from the original LP records, with the accompanying hiss and rumble from which such recordings suffer. With the discovery of and in particular sub-TV, I decided that it was time to transfer the tape to digital and clean it up.

And now I hope that, as a result, with some help from this new audience I can finally solve the mystery and track down That Piece once and for all. And the “18th Century Suite”, too. After 35 years, I am surely the closest to finding out that I have ever been.

A Transdiffusion Presentation

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6 responses to this article

Patrick Purcell 18 May 2013 at 6:26 pm

I, too, looked and looked and found an MP3 version attached:

‘finale’ to a dance suite was apparently part of tutorials done by Arne. I can’t remember where I found that reference, but maybe that will assist you.

Patrick Purcell


Patrick Purcell 18 May 2013 at 6:39 pm

P.S I checked a bit more and found this reference to ‘Suite of Dances’ by Arne – but its for clarinet quintet!, but maybe it will help :

Richard Elen 26 May 2013 at 9:41 pm

Hi, Patrick, and thanks for your helpful comments…

I know the first reference you gave, but the second is new to me. However we’d need to see the music to check the tune is the same, and of course we ARE looking for an orchestration, not a quintet. We DO know that the tune is the same as the Allegro from Thomas Arne’s ‘G Major Sonata for Harpsichord. Ernest Tomlinson recorded orchestral arrangements of several of these, but NOT this one (I asked him).

By the way, we now know that the “18th Century Suite” is by Eric Ashley (aka David Francis) and Walter Sheppard Owen but we are still looking for the complete version of this, which was released by the Conroy music library.

Alan Keeling 2 January 2014 at 8:16 pm

Regarding the “18th Century Suite”, the composer was

Francois Boisvallee & the pieces were at one time available on a 1959 HMV CLP LP. Paul Bonneau was the conductor. Hope I have been of help.

David Seal 3 January 2018 at 2:34 pm

Hi Richard
You may find my 19.00 – 20.00 “Overtures” interesting this evening on and 101.1FM in the Alton area.
Best wishes for 2018
David Seal Producer/presenter Wey Valley Radio

Richard Elen 17 April 2019 at 2:39 pm

We now have the “Eighteenth Century Suite” by Eric Ashley. It’s in the Conroy (Berry Music) music library on a pair of 78s, BM203-4. There are six pieces, including one that was never used in the Schools Interludes.

I was even able to locate the master tapes and transfer the pieces to digital, and they are now available on the EMI Production Music web site as a result.

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