Ronnie Hazlehurst

Master of the TV theme tune


Ronald Hazlehurst, composer: born Duckinfield, Cheshire 13 March 1928; twice married (two sons); died St Peter Port, Guernsey 1 October 2007.

A distinctive and appropriate theme tune is a crucial component of a successful television series. It reflects the nature of the programme and if it is a comedy, the music itself should cause an anticipatory smile, as well as alerting viewers in another room that their programme is starting. Ronnie Hazlehurst was a master of this, writing, arranging and conducting the music for many of the BBC's biggest successes including The Two Ronnies, Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em, Yes Minister and Last of the Summer Wine.

Hazlehurst was born in Duckinfield, Cheshire, in 1928. His father was a railway worker and his mother a piano teacher. Although Ronnie went to a grammar school, he left when he was 14 and became an office clerk in a cotton mill. Despite working long hours for £1 a week, he found time to play the cornet with George Chambers' band and, when offered £4 a week, became a professional musician. The band made regular broadcasts on the BBC Light Programme, but Hazlehurst left when Chambers refused to give him a raise.

During the 1950s, Hazlehurst was a freelance musician around Manchester, before the bandleader Woolf Phillips employed him as his deputy at the Pigalle nightclub in London. He also began working with Peter Knight, head of music for Granada TV, but when Knight left Granada a year later, Hazlehurst's own position came to an end. To make ends meet, he worked on a record stall in Watford market.

Hazlehurst was then appointed a BBC staff arranger, making his first significant contribution on The Likely Lads in 1964. He wrote the music for the TV play Vote, Vote, Vote for Nigel Barton (1965) and the series It's a Knockout (1966). In 1968, he became head of music for Light Entertainment.

Hazlehurst was particularly skilled at writing theme music, always trying to get the music to fit the title. For example, the theme rises and falls at appropriate moments in The Rise and Fall of Reginald Perrin (1976) and he used the sound of a cash register in the melody for Are You Being Served? (1972).

Sometimes, when a production was over budget, the music had to be made for the minimum cost. An ingenious example of Hazlehurst's skill was the use of two piccolos to relate the title of Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em (1973) in Morse code, but he had to fight to get the second piccolo.

The music invariably indicated the comedy to follow, but a glorious exception is his theme for Last of the Summer Wine (1973), which reflected the tranquillity of the Yorkshire Pennines and the gentle pace of the stories. Hazlehurst composed and conducted the incidental music for over 50 episodes of the sitcom. He also wrote the majestic melody for To the Manor Born (1979) and in 1980, used Big Ben's chimes as the inspiration for Yes Minister, where his theme music was accompanied by Gerald Scarfe's acidic caricatures.

Hazlehurst also wrote the themes for The Two Ronnies (1971), the first series of Only Fools and Horses (1981) and the generation-gap comedy Three Up, Two Down (1989). He wrote the music for the inane quiz series Blankety Blank (1979), which was hosted first by Terry Wogan and then Les Dawson, and also came up with the signature tune for Wogan's talk show. He was a man with a good northern sense of humour and he loved Spitting Image mocking him as the man with a four-second attention span. In truth, Hazlehurst was devoted to the music of Delius.

Hazlehurst wrote the introductory music for the BBC's coverage of the Montreal Olympics in 1976 and he arranged and conducted Clare Torry's performance of Dolly Parton's "Love Is Like a Butterfly" for Butterflies in 1978. He performed a similar service for Paul Nicholas who sang the theme song for the comedy in which he starred, Just Good Friends (1983).

Hazlehurst was often involved with the Eurovision Song Contest and was the musical director when it was hosted by the UK in 1974, 1977 and 1982; he conducted the British entry on several other occasions, notably for Michael Ball's "One Step Out of Time" in 1992.

Spencer Leigh

Ronnie Hazlehurst will be remembered by those musicians fortunate enough to have worked with him as much for his professionalism and mastery of his craft as for his generosity and personal modesty, writes Terry Johns.

A student of mine at the Royal Academy in 1976 showed great interest in the now famous "rise and fall" theme for the Reginald Perrin series. Knowing that I was the horn player who had recorded it for the BBC, he asked me to write out the melody for him and to give him some tips for negotiating its wide intervals.

When I told Ronnie about this, he was genuinely and modestly surprised that there could be such interest in his music in academic circles.He was a man almost devoid of personal pride or arrogance and always embarrassed by praise. A week or two later, my student was astonished to receive a beautifully written manuscript of the melody with piano accompaniment, inscribed by the composer with a message of encouragement for the future. Ronnie was always supportive to young musicians and he never forgot his own early struggles, or his friends.

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