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.

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
Sport
footballStriker has moved on loan for the remainder of the season
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
News
The five geckos were launched into space to find out about the effects of weightlessness on the creatures’ sex lives
i100
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
News
i100
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
booksUnlike 'talented mediocrity' George Orwell, you must approach this writer dictionary in hand
News
i100
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 General

Maths Teacher

£120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Randstad Education are currently...

SQL Implementation Consultant (VB,C#, SQL, Java, Eclipse, integ

£40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: SQL Impl...

SQL Technical Implementation Consultant (Java, BA, Oracle, VBA)

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: SQL Technical ...

Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, Fidessa, Equities)

£85000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, ...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering