Radio days: Tales behind the UK tunes

Radio 4 has announced it is to axe its early-morning signature tune. Ciar Byrne investigates the history of the songs which Austrian composer Fritz Spiegl wove together for a 5.30am fantasia

For more than 30 years, the UK Theme has coaxed early morning listeners awake, announcing the end of the BBC's night-time World Service and the beginning of the Radio 4 schedule.

But in three months, if Radio 4 controller Mark Damazer has his way, the four-minute medley of traditional British tunes, including "Early One Morning", "Rule, Britannia!", "Londonderry Air", "Annie Laurie", "Greensleeves", "Men of Harlech", "Scotland the Brave" and "What Shall We Do With A Drunken Sailor" will be put to rest.

When Fritz Spiegl was commissioned to create a piece of music that would signal that Radio 4 was a service for the entire United Kingdom, rather than just the south-eastern corner of England, he produced a medley of tunes from Scotland, Wales, Ireland and England. Some were old, some were new, but all inspired feelings of patriotism.

In keeping with Britain's diverse heritage, Spiegl was himself born in Austria and did not speak a word of English until he moved to Britain to escape the Nazis in 1939, at the age of 13. He developed a passion for the UK's musical heritage, using a Liverpool sea shanty as inspiration when he wrote the signature tune for the television series Z Cars.

Now, days after Gordon Brown called for a clearer view of what it means to be British, the BBC has been accused of political correctness over its decision to scrap the early-morning medley. Two MPs have tabled House of Commons motions calling on Mr Damazer to reverse his decision.

Radio 4's online message boards have been inundated with e-mails from listeners, and one fan has set up a website dedicated to saving the UK Theme, thought to have been first performed by the Northern Symphony Orchestra in 1973. A petition on the website has already attracted 7,000 signatures.

Radio 4 remained defiant yesterday, insisting it would press ahead with changes to the schedule that include starting 10 minutes earlier with an extended shipping forecast followed by a "pacy" news briefing at 5.30am.

"We hope the listeners will give the new schedule a try," said a BBC spokeswoman.

Early One Morning

ENGLAND

One of the best-known traditional folksongs in Britain, sung by generations of schoolchildren, this ballad was given a new lease of life by Jim Moray on his award-winning album Sweet England. However, little is known of the song's origins.

In his 1859 book, Popular Music of the Olden Time, William Chappell names "Early One Morning" as "one of the three most popular songs among the servant-maids of the present generation", along with "Cupid's Garden" and "The Seeds of Love".

Chappell adds that he had heard "Early One Morning" sung by servants in Leeds, Hereford, Devonshire and "parts nearer to London".

The song was first printed in Chappell's Collection of National English Airs, but he believed it had been recorded in earlier songbooks including Sleepy Davy's Garland and The Songster's Magazine.

Chappell noted that scarcely any two versions of the song's lyrics agreed after the second verse (a common feature of many folk songs). But all shared a common refrain - a damsel's lament for the loss of her faithless lover: "O, don't deceive me/ O do not leave me!/ How could you use a poor maiden so?"

Rule Britannia

ENGLAND

In 1700, the Scottish poet James Thomson composed the memorable lines: "Rule, Britannia, rule the waves;/ Britons never will be slaves."

Usually depicted as a regal, warlike woman, wearing a helmet and carrying a trident and a spear to symbolise Empire and militarism, Britannia was the name bestowed by the Romans on what are now England and Wales.

In 1740, the English composer Thomas Arne set Thomson's poem to music for Alfred, a masque about Alfred the Great, which was first performed at Cliveden House in Maidenhead, then the residence of Frederick, Prince of Wales, to mark the anniversary of the accession of King George I and the birthday of Princess Augusta.

The song was first played in London in public in 1745, when it became an instant hit. Handel quoted it in his "Occasional Oratorio" the following year, inserting the words "War shall cease, welcome peace!" Ludwig van Beethoven wrote a set of variations on the theme and Arthur Sullivan also quoted from "Rule Britannia".

The song has become an unofficial national anthem and is belted out with vigour at the Last Night of the Proms.

Scotland the Brave

SCOTLAND

In the recent Kenneth Branagh film, Shackleton, the men on Captain Scott's Antarctic expedition were seen singing "Scotland the Brave". But the scene was an anachronism - the Scottish journalist Cliff Hanley did not write the lyrics until the 1950s.

Lines such as "Towering in gallant fame/Scotland my mountain hame... Land of the shining river/Land of my heart forever/ Scotland the brave", were set to a traditional piping tune. The same tune is also used for the song "My Bonnie Lassie".

Hanley, born in Glasgow in 1923, wrote the song for Robert Wilson, a performer and producer who owned a music shop in Sauchiehall Street. Wilson needed a song to conclude a musical review he was performing at the Glasgow Empire Theatre.

"Scotland the Brave" quickly became a hit and has since become one of Scotland's unofficial national anthems, alongside The Corries' "Flower of Scotland" and "Scots Wha Hae", from the poem by Robert Burns.

The song is the official pipe band march of the British Columbia Dragoons of the Canadian Forces.

Cliff Hanley died in 1999.

Annie Laurie

SCOTLAND

It is traditionally thought that William Douglas, a soldier in the Royal Scots, wrote the words to this old Scottish love song after falling for the daughter of Robert Laurie, the first baronet of Maxwelton, three miles east of Moniaive in Dumfries and Galloway.

Also known as "Maxwelton's Braes" (riverbanks), the lines attributed to Douglas speak of a lovers' pact with "bonnie Annie Laurie". The soldier, who rose to become a captain before his Jacobite allegiances resulted in his exile, is believed to have had a romance with Anne Laurie while she was still in her teens.

If there was any romance, it is likely her father opposed the match, either because his daughter was too young, or because of Douglas's political beliefs. Both went on to marry other people, Laurie marrying the Laird of Craigdarroch and Douglas eloping with a Lanarkshire heiress.

The words were first recorded in 1823 in Sharpe's Ballad Book. It became popular with soldiers in the Crimean War thanks to Lady John Scott, who modernised the verses and set it to music. In the late 1850s, she published the song as part of a collection of verse sold to benefit the widows and orphans of those who had fought in the Crimea.

Londonderry Air

NORTHERN IRELAND

One of the most popular Irish tunes, "Londonderry Air" is commonly associated with the song "Danny Boy". It has been claimed that the melody was composed by a blind harpist, Rory Dall O'Cahan, who lived between 1560 and 1660. In 1851, Jane Ross, of Limavady, Co Londonderry, wrote down the music after hearing it played by an itinerant fiddler.

Prudish Victorians, fearing the name bore too close a resemblance to the phrase "London derrière" preferred to refer to it by the title "An Air From County Derry".

The air became popular with the Irish diaspora, especially in America, and in 1910, Frederick Edward Weatherly, an English lawyer, wrote the now-famous lyrics which begin: "Oh Danny Boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling" after being sent a copy of the tune by his sister-in-law.

What Shall We Do With A Drunken Sailor

ENGLISH SEA SHANTY

One of the oldest known Anglo-Saxon sea shanties, "Drunken Sailor" was the only song the Royal Navy allowed its crew members to sing on board. A work song, mainly sung on bigger ships with large crews, it was often chanted by sailors as they hoisted the sail or raised the anchor, hence the chorus: "Wey, hey, up she rises."

Set to a traditional Irish air, the music was first recorded in 1824 in Cole's Selection of Favourite Cotillions. It was sung by the Indiamen of the Honorable John Company and appears with music in Incidents of a Whaling Voyage by Francis Allyn Olmstead, published in 1841.

The lyrics are humorous if coarse. Suggestions for what the crew might do with the inebriated mariner include: "Shave his belly with a rusty razor" and "Put him in the bed with the captain's daughter".

Successive generations of performers have recorded arrangements of the song, including the King's Singers, James Last and Pete Seeger. In 2005, Toyota used it in a US television commercial.

Greensleeves

ENGLAND

According to popular tradition, Henry VIII composed "Greensleeves" as a love song to Anne Boleyn. The line "to cast me off discourteously" is thought to refer to Boleyn's refusal to succumb to Henry's attempts to seduce her. Others disagree, saying this well-known English ballad was written in a style that was not known until after Henry's death.

Shakespeare refers to the tune in The Merry Wives of Windsor when Falstaff cries out: "Let the sky rain potatoes! Let it thunder to the tune of 'Greensleeves'."

The ballad has inspired many later works, including Ralph Greaves's orchestral arrangement of Ralph Vaughan Williams' Fantasia on 'Greensleeves' from his 1935 Falstaffian opera Sir John in Love, and Leonard Cohen's 1974 song "Leaving Green Sleeves".

Strangely enough, the tune is the official marching song of the Canadian Forces' Dental Branch.

Men of Harlech

WALES

This military march was made famous by the 1963 film Zulu, in which a Welsh regiment is seen singing an adapted version in response to a tribal dance: "Men of Harlech, stop your dreaming/ Can't you see their spear points gleaming?"

Whether the song was actually sung at the battle of Rorke's Drift is not known, but the original song commemorates another confrontation - the showdown between the forces of Welsh hero Owain Glyndwr and the future Henry V of England at Harlech Castle in North Wales. After more than a century of Welsh attempts to besiege the garrison, Glyndwr's men finally seized control in 1404, although Henry won it back four years later.

The song symbolises the Welsh struggle to retain a separate identity from England and it has become a Welsh anthem ("Land of Our Fathers" is the official national anthem).

First published in 1784 as "March of the Men of Harlech" in Musical and Poetical Relicks of the Welsh Bards, the march also appeared in the 1860 volume Gems of Welsh Melody, edited by John Owen. There are many different versions of the English lyrics.

News
newsGlobal index has ranked the quality of life for OAPs - but the UK didn't even make it into the top 10
Arts and Entertainment
Swiss guards stand in the Sistine Chapel, which is to be lit, and protected, by 7,000 LEDs
art

The Sistine Chapel is set to be illuminated with thousands of LEDs

News
people
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
peopleStella McCartney apologises over controversial Instagram picture
News
Gillian Anderson was paid less than her male co-star David Duchovny for three years while she was in the The X-Files until she protested and was given the same salary
people

Gillian Anderson lays into gender disparity in Hollywood

Life and Style
Laid bare: the Good2Go app ensures people have a chance to make their intentions clear about having sex
techCould Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Burr remains the baker to beat on the Great British Bake Off
tvRichard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
News
i100
Sport
footballArsenal 4 Galatasaray 1: Wenger celebrates 18th anniversary in style
Arts and Entertainment
Amazon has added a cautionary warning to Tom and Jerry cartoons on its streaming service
tv
News
people
News
The village was originally named Llansanffraid-ym-Mechain after the Celtic female Saint Brigit, but the name was changed 150 years ago to Llansantffraid – a decision which suggests the incorrect gender of the saint
newsA Welsh town has changed its name - and a prize if you can notice how
Arts and Entertainment
Kristen Scott Thomas in Electra at the Old Vic
theatreReview: Kristin Scott Thomas is magnificent in a five-star performance of ‘Electra’
Life and Style
Couples who boast about their relationship have been condemned as the most annoying Facebook users
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Hayley Williams performs with Paramore in New York
musicParamore singer says 'Steal Your Girl' is itself stolen from a New Found Glory hit
News
i100
Sport
Ronaldinho signs the t-shirt of a pitch invader
footballProof they are getting bolder
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £30000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Do you feel your sales role is l...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £45000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Key featuresA highly motivated ...

SEO Executive

£24 - 28k: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Technical SEO Executive to join one ...

Research Analyst / Insight Analyst

£25k: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Research Analyst / Insight Analyst to joi...

Day In a Page

Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

An app for the amorous

Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

She's having a laugh

Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

Let there be light

Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

A look to the future

It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
The 10 best bedspreads

The 10 best bedspreads

Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

Arsenal vs Galatasaray

Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?