Now it’s jingle all the way 

22 January 2018

From the TVTimes Midlands edition for 9-15 June 1957

Walk along London’s “Tin Pan Alley” any day and you’re liable to run into songwriters with minds far removed from conventional “Moon and June” themes. Instead, they’re searching for a new way of leaving a more lasting impression on the public.

They are the jingle writers and arrangers – men who every ITV day are finding a new branch of an old industry becoming more rewarding.

One of the kings of the jingle-ringers is 37-year-old Johnny Johnston, leader of The Keynotes and The Johnston Brothers, composer of hit songs, head of a music publishing firm. On my way to his office, I spent a few minutes fitting the names of famous products to the words of equally well-known jingles he’s written.

Jingles like: Washes Whiter… America’s Favourite Coffee… None for the Pot… Is a Wonderful Buy… For Lovely Hair… Ten O’clock Tested… and Bridge that Gap…

“I’ve been 21 years in the music publishing business, but now jingles take up about four-fifths of my time,” he told me. “I started writing them before ITV went on the air. I’ve been at it since… over 200 now. And I’m the voice that yawns ‘Goodnight’ for a famous drink.”

Johnny found jingles a “natural” after signature tunes. He wrote the Take It From Here! ditty nine years ago. “There’s no set format, nor even length for a jingle. They may be 7, 15, 30 or 60 seconds — it depends on how much time the advertiser is buying. And it’s no easy job squeezing material into a seven-second spot another client might make last 30 seconds.

“On the other hand some short ones come over better…” He whistled a catchy hair cream tune, and added: “There’s a tendency to come round to the American-type jingle. The tune must be essentially catchy — people don’t want to learn it.

Johnny Johnson and The Keynotes

“The ideas? Sometimes they come from the label, or from the products and the story-line the advertising agency wants to work on. And often when I’m driving home in the car.”

Creation of a successful “commercial” has no hard-and-fast rules. Sometimes an agent will tell the jingle-man: “We’ve done the visual approach… will you give us a tune to fit it?” Other times they’ll say: “You do the jingle… we’ll match the vision later.”

The jingle king doesn’t stop when he’s composed his seven-second masterpiece. He sees it gets the best possible chance of ITV success — for though they’re unseen some of our biggest stars are behind those jingles. Singers like Alma Cogan and Lita Roza, the many voices of Peter Sellers and Kenneth Connor, the brass sections of Ted Heath’s Band and the flutes from symphony orchestras — they’re the sort of artists the jingle-writers bring in to finish the job.

Right words

A thriving little “jingle-land” near Television House is run by Steve Race, Associated-Rediffusion’s versatile musical director. Says Steve: “Jingle music cannot attract attention in itself — as often happens in song-writing. The words are 99 per cent of it — just like the setting of a jewel — and the jingle’s useless if the words have no meaning.” And that, in this new branch of the music business, would be like a first-night flop.

Steve stressed the importance of words. “I was recently working on a jingle with Max Bygraves, which Max had to cap by saying ‘That’s the lolly.’ It was necessary for us to run through it together so that I could hear just the inflection he gives the word ‘lolly’.”

Copywriters working on the “story” of a commercial often hit on unofficial jingles to help create their message. “But they never tell us — it wouldn’t do for the jingle-writer’s composition to be coloured before he gets to work.”

Precision being essential, the jingle-man’s headache comes when the advertiser later decides to cut or extend his time. Steve walked over to the piano in his office and tapped out the tune he wrote for “The flavoury cube of savoury fame.”

“We wanted to lengthen it from seven to 15 seconds, so I added this to the beginning…” and he played another set of ear-catching bars to which the original was joined.

There’s another headache when the advertiser’s slogan just cannot, for reasons of metre, be fitted to a catchy tune. If he’s lucky, the writer is permitted to change the words slightly to make them fit. Otherwise, a new idea must be provided.

Piano try-out

Others prominent in the jingle industry are King Jingles Ltd., who scored an early ITV hit with those “too-good-to-hurry mints” — in which The Stargazers were the “choir” — and the bandleader Stanley Black.

Composer of 44 film scores and several signature tunes, Stanley told me: “Most 15-second jingles take longer to write than three or four minutes of incidental music. And some of the ideas offered would take about 20 minutes to put over.” One of his happiest ITV assignments was when he wrote the opening and closing music for John Betjeman’s “Touring Britain” series.

Though he has a grand piano at his Edgware home, most of Stanley’s jingles are tinkled on an old upright in his office. “That’s my ‘other piano’ — if they sound good on that they’ll be good anywhere.”

You Say

3 responses to this article

Alan Keeling 22 January 2018 at 3:42 pm

The “Touring Britain” series, mentioned in Bill’s article may well be “Discovering Britain” narrated by John Betjeman. There were around 26 short films with a running time of 3.5 minutes each made for Shell Petroleum, covering such places as Kent, Stow on the Wold, Wiltshire, etc. Last shown briefly on ATV (Midlands) in 1972.

Alan Keeling 22 January 2018 at 3:52 pm

From the mid-sixties, Jeremy the young bear featured in Sugar Puffs TV commercials until he was later replaced by a cartoon version of himself. From 1975, a rather large Honey Monster with actor Henry McGee promoted Sugar Puffs on TV.

Alan Keeling 22 January 2018 at 3:56 pm

During the early years of ITV, the animated ‘marching guardsmen’ of the Murray Mints commercial was animated by Halas and Batchelor Cartoon Films.

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