Saturday, 19 February 2011

Radio Newsreel and other themes

Whilst flicking through some back issues of London Calling I came across this article on the history of Radio Newsreel and the public outcry there was about the change of the signature tune. This incident is referred to in the edition of Signing On I posted in November.

The article reads:

Its first broadcasts were to North America in 1940 intended to convey news of the war, in the Overseas Service of the BBC. By October 1941 it was being relayed to the Pacific and to Africa also in the Overseas Service, and in 1947 the programme was broadcast on the domestic network in the Light Programme.

The aim of Radio Newsreel was then, and still is, “to report faithfully on current events in Britain and abroad, and to present the picture attractively in a straightforward and unpretentious manner.”

The programme’s style marked a departure from the often necessarily solemn presentation of news during the war years. Its frank and enthusiastic approach to conveying the news endeared Radio Newsreel to listeners throughout the world, and today accounts for its lasting popularity.

In 1970 the programme ceased to go out in the Light Programme, but continued in the World Service, where it has since remained. In recent years proof of listeners’ affection for Radio Newsreel was shown when a decision to change its signature tune, Imperial Echoes, provoked an avalanche of letters in protest.

The very old recording of the music, composed by Arnold Safroni-Middleton, had finally worn out, and so was replaced by a modern, newly orchestrated version which was widely disliked. The protests were confirmed in a BBC questionnaire which showed that nearly two to one listeners preferred the original version.

But happily, a chance discovery brought relief to all concerned when BBC studio manager Keith Perrin, while browsing in a junk shop in Tiverton, Devon in England, found a mint copy of the recording of Imperial Echoes, which was promptly restored as the ‘rightful’ signature tune. 

In the Signing On programme David Rider tells us that the original version was performed by the RAF Band and that the re-recording by the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble.

This brings me onto a couple of other World Service signature tunes that I came across whilst putting together the This is London post. 

John Tidmarsh, presenter of Outlook

The theme for Outlook was immediately recognisable to me as The Hell Raisers, a fantastic tune by Syd Dale. This track appeared on the Girl in a Suitcase CD (an album I’m shocked to see Amazon is now selling at £50, and the 2009 upgraded version at just short of £100) in which the sleeve notes tell us it was used as the theme to the Rediffusion tv series Orlando. Orlando starred Sam Kydd by the way. How many other people play ‘Sam Kydd spotting’ when an old black & white British film is on the telly, or is it just me?


The theme for New Ideas is also a Syd Dale composition called Quite Contrary. I traced this through the KPM Music Library website. You can while away many an hour auditioning the tracks spotting many a recognisable theme tunes or piece of incidental music.

And finally on the subject of theme tunes I stumbled across a couple of relevant articles on the Image Dissectors website. Here are links to Robert Weeden writing about radio station theme tunes and radio news themes.

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