The Brit List: 10 Great British TV Theme Tunes You May Not Know

Note: Before anyone writes in, let’s just assume we all agree that the best TV theme tune ever made is Doctor Who, OK? OK.

Ski Sunday

The key to a great ’70s TV theme tune lies in the percussion section. Most notably with the fellow on the kettle drums, or timpani. His job is to bring the thunder, at key moments. Listen out for his wondrous work in this, the theme to the BBC’s footage of downhill skiing (a surprisingly popular show, the credit for which must rest largely on the shoulders of that same unknown percussionist).

Meanwhile, for a more general sports roundup, Saturday lunchtimes were made for this:


More astonishing timpani work, you’ll notice. Listen out for the big “baaaauuuuuuUUUUUM” at around the 23 seconds mark.

At the more humble end of the scale, there was this, the theme to a sitcom about two rag-and-bone men:

Steptoe and Son

From one old rogue to another. This was the origin of Little Britain’s “write the theme tune, sing the theme tune” gag about Dennis Waterman. He released a vocal version of this song as a single. It did quite well:


Of course, the local police would have taken a dim view of their shenanigans. Send for the rozzers!

Z Cars

No, not the uniformed mob, we want the Flying Squad, the ones with the really exciting music:

The Sweeney

Now, enough of this roughness. Time for something more kiddy-friendly:

Roobarb and Custard

It’s no coincidence that this cartoon started in 1974 and within two years we had the day-glo riot of punk rock. Still, there was always this, for the gentler children:


Sorry, just drifted off for a moment there. How about some more timpanis?

Black Beauty

Majestic, isn’t it? Although there’s always someone who wants to bring us back to everyday reality.

Grange Hill

Note: when a certain political rap-metal band released their debut album in 1992, one of the songs on it, in some ways their defining song, contained a riff which sounded oddly familiar. It took me 20 years to twig why:

Fraser McAlpine

Fraser McAlpine

Fraser has been writing and broadcasting about music and popular culture for over 15 years, first at the Top of the Pops website, and most recently for the NME, Guardian and MSN. He also wrote BBC Radio 1's Chart Blog and reviews albums for BBC Radio 2. He is Anglophenia's current resident Brit, blogging about British slang and running around the Mall taking snaps of the crowd at the Royal Wedding, as well as reigniting a childhood passion for classic Doctor Who and cramming as much music in as he can manage. Fraser invites you to join him on Twitter: @csi_popmusic
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