The return of the UK’s favourite time-traveller, Doctor Who, to our screens this weekend, is likely to remind people from my generation of their childhood, afternoons spent hiding behind the sofa while the Doctor takes on the Cybermen or the Daleks.
We usually didn’t even have to wait for the inevitable confrontation between our hero and his enemy before hiding behind cushions. Usually, all we needed to hear was this music…
This bit of 1960’s musical electronica, written by composer Ron Grainer, arranged and realised by BBC Radiophonic Workshop genius Delia Derbyshire, is probably responsible for striking fear and trepidation into the hearts of many under 11s over the years. Probably more so than the wobbly sets and dodgy low-budget special effects ever were.
But some may not know that making kids hide behind the sofa seemed to be, maybe unwittingly, a speciality of Grainer and his TV theme work.
The other thing to hide behind the sofa to back in 1979 was another Grainer composition, this…
A series of short stories with twists, Tales of the Unexpected was staple programming in the Sunday ITV schedule in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Hearing this theme music was either a sign that you had probably stayed up too late, your cue to go and have a bath, or go to your room and do something else altogether more happy and childlike.
It seemed to be designed to strike fear into the hearts of innocents, from Grainer’s gently teasing theme tune, to the title sequence with the silhouetted dancing woman, flames, guns, tarot cards and voodoo mask shit, and Roald Dahl’s creepy fireside intro to the story sat in that leather high-backed chair. Even Anglia’s gallant knight on horseback seemed positively sinister, heralding the entry into the bizzare, scary and (frequently) low-budget world of Tales of the Unexpected.
Today it seems almost irrational that these pieces of music should have had such power at the time, but maybe that’s the skill in someone like Ron Grainer, who died 20 years ago this month, to set the tone and create such powerful assciations in our minds.
Even now, both pieces of music make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up and bring back vivid childhood memories, and it’s not just me, right? What TV music were you apprehensive, scared or downright terrified of?