Tuesday 15 April 1986

…Watched Duty Free. Recorded the music…

The second volume of my home-taped TV theme collection was shaping up nicely. Here’s how the first half of side one eventually looked:

One slice of Ball, Stilgoe, Jossy and Popper please!

Listening back to it now, I realise the theme to Just So Stories is the same as that used for the closing music in series two of A Bit of Fry and Laurie (although it appears here in fully-orchestrated, and yet somehow slightly less impressive, form).

The Stilgoe’s On theme features not one, not two but three Stilgoes harmonising with each other. It’s an acutely fussy song for a rather humble chilren’s programme about making things, but that just renders it all the more memorable.

I think Edward and Mrs Simpson is on there because my mum liked it. It’s not the sort of thing I would’ve willingly watched in the spring of 1986. Or perhaps any season. Ever.

Seaview, meanwhile, is an ambitious edit of the opening (ordinary) and closing (full rock wig-out) versions. I didn’t go about these things lightly.

I’ve said this before, but I am truly glad this and the other tapes still exist and are still playable.

As such I readily doff a Jossy’s Giants goalmouth-sized hat in the direction of the fine folk at WHSmith.

Monday 10 March 1986

…Did Project and Measurement today. Took some Project home to do.
Recorded All at No 20 theme tune today. Nearly filled the whole tape up…

All at No 20 was a Maureen Lipman-helmed sitcom which, it being a Monday night and starring Maureen Lipman, was made by Thames Television. It being a Maureen Lipman sitcom, it also boasted a theme tune performed by Maureen Lipman, although unlike her previous effort for ITV there was no singing involved, just some inoffensive, must-try-harder scatting and doobedooing.

The entire sit and com of All at No 20 is conveniently, if not entirely painlessly, demonstrated in this 10-minute selection of clips, featuring Maureen in a variety of fetching mid-80s I’m-an-independent-woman outfits (topped off with oversized glasses), along with randy bank manager Gary Waldhorn, lippy daughter Lisa Jacobs, Martin Clunes in a bowtie, a gag about the Trade Descriptions Act, someone pretending to be gay, a bare minimum of about three studio sets, and a Bittersweet Twist At The End.

Still, nice theme tune.

Sunday 9 March 1986

…Recorded three theme tunes today.
Watched a Miss Marple adventure.
Only two more weeks at school before we break up…

My home taping efforts were clearly picking up pace, perhaps because I could see I was nearing the end of the cassette and was keen to feel a sense of achievement at having filled a full hour of WHSmith FE.I C-60.

Going off the inlay card, the three themes in question must have been Brat Farrar (*shudder*), Hancock’s Half Hour (never really a fan; I just liked the way he went “H-H-H-H-H-Hancock’s Half Hour”) and the sublime Miss Marple.

I say sublime, but one of the Beeb’s Miss Marple adaptations gave me nightmares.

It was The Body in the Library. I’m not sure when I saw it, as that particular episode was first screened over Christmas 1984, when I doubt I’d have been allowed (or really wanted) to watch such classy capers.

I’m guessing it was a repeat screening that gave me the creeps. It was a proper full-on shouting-out nightmare to boot. All precise details have long vanished from memory, but I’m vaguely convinced that it might have been triggered by the bit where a body is found not in the library but in a burned-out car. Alternatively, [looks at cast list] Valentine Dyall may have been involved.

I’m pretty sure it did not involve the titular totterer.

Unless I’m losing my Marples.

Losing my Marples


Wednesday 5 March 1986

…Recorded Dallas theme tune…

I’ve an especially vivid recollection of this.

As usual, I was waiting by the television with a portable cassette recorder held as close to the set’s speaker as possible. But on this occasion I was caught a little off-guard, as rather than the show being introduced in the standard manner by the BBC continuity announcer over a graphic of a spinning globe, the episode was cued in by Terry Wogan from the set of his chat show.

I’m not sure if this was the first episode of a new series of Dallas, but Tel definitely had at least one cast member from the show with him in the studio. As the interview came to an end, deploying his usual mix of blarney and bemusement Terence thanked his guests, thanked his audience and thanked us for watching, then made as if to settle back and “watch” Dallas on a giant screen positioned just behind his left shoulder.

The episode duly began there and then, in the Wogan studio. I panicked. Scrambling to press record, I missed the opening seconds of the theme in the process. Just as I got the tape up and running, the picture on our TV set crossfaded from the image of Dallas in Wogan’s lair to your standard full-screen Dallas transmission.

It was all a bit of a kerfuffle, but I must have been satisfied enough with the results to not bother trying again the following week. The inlay card of the cassette on to which I was putting all these themes lists Lovejoy as the track after Dallas, followed by The Muppet Show (which my diary notes me taping on Saturday 8 March).

I should add that neither I nor my family ever really watched Dallas. This would’ve been one of those occasions where I recorded the signature tune because it was first and foremost A Good Theme, not good television.

Unlike Lovejoy and The Muppet Show, which were and are, by any measure, Good.

Saturday 22 February 1986

…Recorded two theme tunes today: Bananaman and Grandstand…

I started taping theme tunes off the television in early 1985.

I would go to compile three volumes of cassettes, spanning the years 1985-87 and a total of 94 programmes.

I’ve still got all three tapes. Here’s the first volume, on to which I put the two themes I recorded this day 25 years ago:

Reeling in the years

I’m not sure what prompted me to start. Perhaps I heard somebody talking about it at school. Perhaps the family had just invested in a portable tape recorder (this is more likely). Either way, I loved doing it and always loved listening to the end result.

Side one track one of this first volume is the BBC children’s comedy drama Who Sir? Me Sir?, which I’m sure is barely remembered by even those who appeared in the cast.

More kids’ fare follows: Fraggle Rock, The Family Ness and Dogtanian.

But then it gets interesting, in the shape of Treasure Hunt (still one of the greatest TV themes ever) and Fireball XL5, which I probably captured during the school holidays when the series was being flung out disinterestedly by Central.

Here’s the reverse of the inlay card (the ink on the other side has faded to near-invisibility):

Adam Heath?

What riches!

I’m listening to this tape as I type, and I’m struck not just by how great most of the themes are, but also by how well the cassette has weathered the decades. The sound quality is pretty good – damn good, actually.

I think I had fairly decent taste back then. I wouldn’t turn my nose up at many of those shows today, save perhaps Brat Farrar and (on the other side of the tape) Zorro and Son. “Soppy Music” sounds today like something that must have accompanied a testcard or Pages From Ceefax. Adam Heath is a misspelling/mishearing of Adam Faith, which I must taped off the radio to fill up the end of the side (ditto A-Ha).

Extra Time, meanwhile, was a Saturday teatime show on BBC Radio Leicester, hosted by John Rawling.

As you can see, I didn’t discriminate. Flagships shows and humdrum efforts alike were recorded. Elsewhere Stilgoe’s On is next to Duty Free, and Bergerac is sequenced after Food and Drink.

The fact these tapes still exist at all is as much to do with my own archival instincts as the longevity of WHSmith-branded cassettes. Whatever went in to the manufacture of these pocket money treats has weathered the passing of time with hat-doffing aplomb.