Regional Flavours 

1 January 2003

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Some used orchestral marches and some chose to commission more “contemporary” compositions, but the medleys of traditional folk songs employed by several Independent Television companies to start their day form perhaps some of the most evocative music in television history.

This article was updated with new information on 8 July 2012.

There is an extraordinary breadth to the music composed (or sometimes chosen) by ITV companies over the years to accompany the handover from the Independent Television Authority (later the IBA) to the television company at the start of the broadcast day.

Precedents were set by the BBC Television Service, which opened with a specially-commissioned BBC Television March by Eric Coates, played in whole or in part, from 1946 until about 1960.

More than one commercial television company chose an “orchestral march” either by Coates himself or something in the same vein. Another popular choice was to commission a piece from one of the leading composers of film or production (library) music (often the same people) or popular composers of the day when something a little lighter or contemporary was required, for example Richard Addinsell’s atmospheric Southern Rhapsody (Southern Television, 1958-81); Johnny Pearson’s effective Midlands Montage (ATV, 1976-81); John Dankworth’s famous Widespread World of Rediffusion (Rediffusion, London, 1964-68); or Chris Gunning’s Yorkshire Theme (1981-88).

These pieces enabled a company to set the tone for the day’s broadcasting, whether it was solid, reliable and authoritative; popular and entertaining; or young and contemporary.

But there was a third strand to start-up music: one that provided the opportunity for an ITV company not only to set the stage for the day to come, but also to provide a link with the region it served: a link that could reach back into the history of the area and draw on its unique musical heritage.

This was for the TV company to commission a medley based on traditional tunes and songs from the area – or at least melodies that could reasonably be claimed to have some regional connection.

Here, once again, there was a BBC precedent. The BBC Television Service employed a piece called National Airs, Jack Byfield’s beautifully arranged medley of British traditional songs including “Early One Morning” (England), “The Ash Grove” (Wales), “Londonderry Air/Danny Boy” (Northern Ireland) and “The Campbells Are Coming” (Scotland) in the mid-Fifties as a start-up theme. Byfield also arranged two versions of “Oranges and Lemons” for the Light Programme’s start-up, and there are echoes of “Nat. Airs”, as it was known, in Fritz Spiegl’s former Radio 4 UK Theme.

The resulting ITV medleys represented some of the most evocative pieces of start-up music to be heard from the start of the Fifties until the present day. Regrettably, however, few of them have been issued on disc to be heard by a wider audience that would never have encountered them at the time, despite the vast growth of interest in British light and light-classical music in recent years.

In many cases the scores, too, are lost, requiring painstaking transcription from existing off-air recordings if any attempt is to be made to recreate them.

Arranging a medley of well-known tunes is not a simple job for the composer, and it has to be done well to avoid sounding banal. The technical challenges are many.

First, though the fact that you are employing traditional tunes is a great boost, because the audience already knows them, by the same token they have to be treated respectfully and not unreasonably mangled or bowdlerised. And if you are arranging a regional medley, your choices may be more limited than in the case of National Airs, where there were an entire country’s folk tunes to call upon.

At the same time, the links between adjacent tunes are almost more important than the melodies themselves. These have to lead the listener between the themes without losing the thread – simply jumping from one to the next is not something you can do often.

Once in a while you can allow yourself to come to a stop and then start again, but even this pause must have musical validity, building – or relieving – tension. At the same time, the links between the melodies need to ‘modulate’ pleasingly from the key of the previous piece to that of the next, often rising a little – by a semitone or a tone, for example – to lift the piece.

Such modulations are perhaps the most difficult to get to work, because as well as linking the tunes together, you have to remain conscious of the overall intent of the piece, which probably requires the lead-up to a grand finale – in this case, perhaps the animated form-up of the station’s symbol. And just as with any piece of start-up music, you have to be conscious of the requirements of timing and the need to allow for certain elements, such as the Authority Announcement, which, if ill-timed or longer than expected, can wreak havoc on a carefully-crafted work.

With these considerations in mind, let’s take a look at some of the traditional medleys that have contributed a regional (or at least British) identity to Independent Television start-ups.

In any attempt at classification there will, of course, be some items that simply won’t fit neatly into any bag. The magnificent variations by an unknown composer – quite possibly Adolf Lotter, then first principal Double Bass of the Beecham Philharmonic Orchestra – on a theme of The British Grenadiers, for example, that opened the earliest Associated-Rediffusion transmissions do not, perhaps, constitute a medley as such (revolving around one piece only) but the tune is certainly ‘traditional’, having been with us since the 1780s.

And perhaps it does evoke the ritual and tradition of London – as does the excerpt from Elgar’s Cockaigne that accompanied it. Similarly, it might be debatable whether one should count the stirring Yorkshire Television March, orchestrated by Ron Goodwin from a composition by Derek New, and used from 1968-80, even though here we find composer and arranger tipping their non-existent hats, as it were, to “On Ilkley Moor Baht’at” with the unmistakeable aid of Battle Of Britain, among other Goodwin themes.

Definitely worthy of inclusion, however, yet also with a definite military bearing, if a somewhat light-hearted one, the Band of Her Majesty’s Welsh Guards performed an astonishingly nimble selection of excerpts from Welsh musical heritage in their Men of Harlech Medley by one “Arnold Steck” (aka Major Leslie Statham, the Band’s director of music for a long time, who also composed the original theme for Match of the Day, available as Drum Majorette on a Chappell’s library disc). Teledu Cymru used the medley from 1962 to 1968.

The band steams through an intricate military band arrangement that includes “Men of Harlech” and “God Bless the Prince of Wales” among other themes. Interestingly, however, none of the other pieces of music used by companies serving Wales at various times included traditional material, the companies choosing instead to commission a variety of original compositions.

As in Wales, none of the companies serving other ‘Celtic’ areas of the UK – Northern Ireland and Scotland – made notable use of traditional medleys (although some, such as Ulster Television, used traditional tunes as idents), with one further exception.

Perhaps the ground had been too well trodden to sound anything but hackneyed, and the companies instead chose totally original compositions that often included musical allusions to the style, rather than the content, of traditional music from their regions.

The exception is Scottish Television, who employed a piece by Geraldo and his Orchestra, Scotlandia, from 1957 onwards. The arrangement is by Ray Terry – one of Geraldo’s staff arrangers and also, ironically, a member of the mighty BBC Television orchestration department of the 1960s. “Gerry” was extremely well known when this piece was first used (he had a regular show on the Light Programme), and no wonder, as he manages to artfully cram a vast number of tunes into four or so minutes, several with a common Jacobite theme (and one is curious to wonder from whence this influence came).

The melodies include “The Campbells Are Coming”, “Will Ye No Come Back Again” (by Lady Carolina Nairne, 1766-1845, composer of many post-Jacobite patriotic songs), “Loch Lomond”, “Comin’ Through the Rye”, “Charlie Is My Darling”, “Wi’ a Hundred Pipers” (that’s another two by Lady Nairne) and several more.

One of the best known of traditional medleys is Ralph Vaughan-Williams’ Sea Songs, lifted wholesale by Anglia Television from a Boosey & Hawkes library disc for use from mid 1959 into the 1980s. Why Anglia felt that they had a particularly good reason to use a collection of solely nautical melodies it is hard to say – outside the Midlands, virtually any ITV region in England could claim to have some kind of maritime heritage, and the same composer’s Folk Songs of the Eastern Counties might have been a more appropriately regional choice – but the piece is an undeniable masterpiece, and it is certainly difficult to put together a medley of British folk songs without paying some kind of homage to Vaughan-Williams’s expertise in this area.

Interestingly, one tune in the medley, “Princess Royal”, is a Cotswold folk dance and strangely akin to “The Saucy Arethusa”, the euphonium solo immortalised by Sir Henry Wood in his Proms “Sea Songs” selection, while there is also a very romantic version of “Portsmouth” as the trio section.

Anglia followed the songs of the sea with another piece of music sharing the watery theme – the Hornpipe from Handel’s Water Music Suite arranged by Sir Malcolm Sargent – perhaps in recognition of the region’s low-lying nature and predilection for flooding? (And whoever thought of combining the image of a knight on horseback with a sailor’s hornpipe, written by a German living in England and arranged by someone better known as a conductor?)

In contrast, from an area with a claim to nautical heritage that nobody could deny, Tyne Tees Television, from 1959 onwards, used one of the most impressive start-up pieces of all, written by well-known light music composer Arthur Wilkinson (1919-68), noted for his medleys. His lively Three Rivers Fantasy seamlessly includes the company ident at the appropriate point (although it sounds like it was edited in, it fits perfectly) and arranges several tunes from the Northeast region, including quotations from “Blaydon Races”, “The Waters of Tyne”, “The Keel Row” (where the original mentions the Tyne in the lyrics), “Billy Boy”, “Oh! The Bonny Fisher Lad”, “Sair Fyeld Hinnie”, “The Colliers’ Rant”, and “Bobby Shaftoe”, a song originating in Spennymoor – Mr Robert Shaftoe was a County Durham MP elected in 1761, and apparently used the song as an election jingle! Wilkinson is discussed in more detail by Gavin Sutherland in an article elsewhere in Sounds On, Forgotten Genius.

An English Overture, by prolific library and TV composer Paul Lewis (see Music at the Library), was used by Westward Television from 1971-81. The recording was personally paid for by Peter Cadbury, and made for the music library Studio G, in Belgium in 1970. The piece was originally titled A Westward Overture, but John Gale of Studio G suggested that the present title would be more saleable – and indeed it received many performances by the BBC Concert Orchestra amongst others.

Interestingly, the recording used on-air is simply the play-through and two complete takes stuck together. Ron Goodwin bought into the three-hour session to record “a little piece he was working on”, and Lewis was disturbed to discover that Goodwin’s recording took up all but the last half hour of his session – hence the somewhat rough-edged sound to the piece. The Overture includes quite a number of traditional English folk songs and, while more than acceptable for its purpose, it is inevitably overshadowed by its predecessor, where some of the same tunes appear.

And that predecessor, which ran for an entire decade, is an utter gem. In my view, there are two pieces of start-up music that most desperately need to be re-recorded and let loose once again in the world at large (and at the time of this update in July 2012, at least the first of these will actually happen soon, as Gavin Sutherland has recorded it for release shortly). One is Wilkinson’s Three Rivers Fantasy, mentioned above. The other is Westward Ho!, which was almost certainly penned by Ray Terry who was mentioned earlier, and was used by Westward Television for ten years from its beginnings in 1961.

Westward Ho! is a simply stunning piece of work. Stirring and powerful, yet at times moving and passionate, the four-minute piece begins with a rousing introduction leading into what we used to call in the music libraries a “broad, expansive theme”.

Indeed, this apparently original theme, played by the horns, sets the scene for a remarkable piece of music that is like nothing less than the overture to a swashbuckling 1940s movie starring Errol Flynn (The Sea Hawk for example). There’s even an interjected trumpet fanfare the first time around, as if we were cutting away to the Westward galleon at sea, sails billowing in the wind, spray cascading around the bows – and this image, along with the essence of the first theme, appear in the very earliest Westward idents, which feature film and animation of the famous Galleon at sea.

Second time round, the strings take over and the scene quietens for a while, but before long the brass comes back in and the music builds again, then pauses, as if the orchestra is taking a breath, before plunging headlong into a whirlwind tour of all the tunes that would appear in full later if this was the opening overture of a film score – except they’re all traditional songs, often played here as if they were accompanying a breathless swordfight on deck.

Fragments of familiar themes blow past in the wind, as the woodwinds, strings and brass trade lines, punctuating each other with a jaunty nautical line here, a brass stab there. Virtually every modulation from one key to the next is up, lifting the piece at almost every turn.

Hints of that first theme return from time to time, woven intricately into dazzling arrangements of tunes like “Widdecombe Fair” (that’s Widdecombe in the Moor, on Dartmoor) and “Landlord, Fill the Flowing Bowl”. There are also fragments of another tune that on first hearing might be mistaken for “Dixie”, but is in fact “The Dashing White Sergeant”, attributed to Sir Henry Rowley Bishop (1786-1855), the first musician ever to have been knighted(!).

Once again the mood relaxes for a while, with a tender rendition of almost an entire verse of “Oh No, John!”*, which has roots going back at least to the mid-17th century, before there’s an unmistakeable flourish that tells you something big is about to happen (in fact, they’re playing a hint of “The Floral Dance”).

Rising figures from the strings follow, and the brass thunders into a spirited rendering of “Green Grow the Rushes-Oh!” the composer tossing the tune back and forth between different sections of the orchestra before everything slows with a powerful crescendo and we’re recapitulating that first theme again, in full, the strings taking the melody to a powerful climax, a pause, and… aaargh! It’s the Authority Announcement!

And beneath Roger Shaw’s measured tones assuring us that this is in fact Westward Television, broadcasting from Stockland Hill, Huntshaw Cross and Caradon Hill, and not tonight’s classic swashbuckling movie adventure starting a little early, you can hear the orchestra going up through the gears, modulating that theme higher and still higher, emerging from under the announcement into another phrase from the Floral Dance and, finally, to a triumphant conclusion. There isn’t a dry eye in the house, and if you heard this in a concert-hall, you’d give it a standing ovation.

Programmes? Who cares about the programmes?

*Thanks to Mike Knell for pointing out that this was previously incorrect.

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