The top 10 best TV Theme Tunes of the 80s

In the 80s, there were two things that had my full attention. The music chart and everything in it, and the television. Three channels became four in the early 80s, giving us 33% more choice of what to watch. Adverts burned into our memories forever, actors, comedians, variety acts, singers and presenters became part of our families. People with discernible talent, invited into our living rooms to do the things they did with skill, charisma and questionable personal lives.

Alongside the music of the decade which is still played on radio these days, some music that carved itself into our cerebellums isn't heard at all - until someone says something like, 'Remember Rainbow?' and the theme tune pops into your head like a faulty toaster. Well, I've done another arbitrary list of something - this time, theme tunes as actual pieces of music, and what I think were the best ones of the 1980s. There's a video accompanying this too so go watch that and transport yourself back to your youth, or to a time before you were born if that's something you think you'll enjoy.

10. Mr Benn

I enjoyed jolly theme tunes, especially the ones on Kids TV shows. The 70s was a golden age for Children's television (where this particular show was from). There was an innocence about it you don't get with the weird stuff they have these days. The theme to Mr Benn was an orchestral ensemble of clarinets, xylophones and other things played by real musicians. The melody skips about into unexpected areas with an almost Rimsky-Korsakov sensibility to it.  It's in stark contrast to the theme of the show however, as Mr Benn is a sad character who has to escape his real humdrum life by going into a costume shop, getting slipped something medicinal by the shopkeeper and believing he goes on adventures based on whatever costume he'd try on that day. It's in this list because it was shown again and again in the early 80s at lunch time. The music is credited as composed by Don Warren, (which was Duncan Lamont's pseudonym).

9. Knightmare

A synth-based one this. With thunder, horses, whooshes and power-drums, you couldn't help but get excited for the show to come. It was composed by a bloke called Ed Welch, who will appear again in this list. He also co-composed the Icelandic entry in the Eurovision Song Contest in 1995. It wasn't called Ja Ja Ding-Dong though.

8. The Incredible Hulk

Before Marvel was bought by Disney and everything was produced by computers and people with loads of letters after their names, The big green grumpy idiot was the subject of a modest television show which tapped into the heart of what it must be like to get angry indiscriminately at things that don't concern you and start lashing out at people you don't know - much like a Facebook argument.  In the recent movies he's Bruce Banner - in the tv show, he's David for some reason. When he got angry he turned into Lou Ferrigno and back again. At the end of the show, David Banner would leave the town he'd smashed up and wander off into the distance, trying to hitch-hike along to the saddest music known to mankind.  The tune was called 'The Lonely Man' and featured on an album which was released containing all the incidental music from the show, all composed by Joe Harnell. In his early days, he was taught by Leonard Bernstein and even accompanied Judy Garland and Marlene Dietrich on stage from the piano. Quite a career!

7. The A-Team

Probably one of the most famous tv theme tunes of all time. Full of excitement, it accompanies the opening credits perfectly. Trucks flipping over, helicopters flying into the camera, Hannibal dressed as a dinosaur smoking a cigar, Murdoch talking to a sock puppet, Mr. T. smiling, a car smashing through a wall and then being chased by a helicopter followed by a jeep flipping over, again. Brilliant!  The theme tune was composed by Mike Post (LA Law, Quantum Leap, Magnum PI and Hill Street Blues) and Pete Carpenter (Bewitched).

6. Thundercats

After watching the intro to this, you need a cup of tea and a lie down. It's just too exciting. The music is frantic, the montage of the cats themselves running, jumping, fighting, floating and watching their swords getting longer is all too much for an 8 year old, especially after two cans of fanta and a packet of space dust. 'Feel the magic, hear the roar - Thundercats are loose' - then Mumra appears and you pass out from the excitement only to wake up and find you've missed the entire episode and you're now watching Grandstand. Bernard Hoffer wrote the theme tune; there's not a lot of information about him knocking about but he also wrote the theme for SilverHawks. Whatever that is.

5. The Moomins

This family of Hippos and hangers-on is still very popular due to the artwork and stylings. The music is gorgeous. Like an excerpt from a Mozart opera. It's ethereal, magical and drags you straight off into the weird world of Moominvalley. Because the soundtrack is so weird, it gives you a Proustian rush - much like most of the things you heard, smelled or tasted for the first time as a child will do - associative involuntary memories. It was written by Graeme Miller and Steve Shill, two post-punk composers using rudimentary synthesizers. It works too.

4. Knight Rider

Electronic music had taken over a little bit by the time Knightrider came along but it's metallic robot-like bleepy bloopy computer-game-like arpeggiated bubbling set the scene perfectly. David Hasselhoff's perm, the whooshing red light on the front of the car and the moment he presses 'Turbo Boost' and jumps over a 3 foot hedge, all combine to send you back to that moment you were sitting directly in front of the television in your superman pyjamas and Sooty slippers, drooling at the thought of having a car that could talk.  The main theme is taken from the Brass Band piece 'March and Procession of Bacchus From Silvia' by Leo Delibes. The rest is a lift from Harry Thumann's 'Sphinx' which you can check out here.

3. Bod

Chaotic but clever. This theme was written by someone who understood music  to a very fine degree. It's not whistlable, although I do find myself still trying from time to time, and it's not catchy - but it hooks you in and wakes you up. According to the 'internet' Derek Griffiths wrote the music - I do remember him singing the doobeedoos in this and other themes (each character had their own) but wasn't aware he was a musician with writing chops of this standard. He sang on loads of kids TV stuff and was the voice of SuperTed. I saw him in a production of Disney's Beauty and the Beast as Lumiere in 1998 - I still remember it, he was that good.

2. Cockleshell Bay

Heartbreaking. It takes real skill to compose music like this. I used to try and play it on the piano when I was first learning and couldn't understand why notes that weren't in that key were being used - then understood that it's in two different keys that keep swapping - that's what gives the whole thing that bittersweet feel without jarring you out of the atmosphere. Genius really. It made you feel a bit melancholy, totally out of keeping with the theme of the show - two kids living in a B&B because their Dad couldn't face going back to work in a factory. Good times.  The program started as a feature on Rainbow (hence the rainbow in the image) but became it's own thing after a while. The tune was composed by David Rohl and Stuart J. Wolstenholme, neither of which are in the Foo Fighters.


Written by the same bloke who did Knightmare, this is the archetypal quiz show theme tune that beats even Who wants to be a Millionaire and Countdown.  The clever use of the opening of Beethoven's 5th Symphony is played just as the composer's head flips into view in the opening credits. Ed Welch also wrote songs for Cilla Black, Shirley Bassey and Davy Jones, then wrote theme songs for The National Lottery, Catchphrase and Thomas and Friends.







Posted in Stuff and Things.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *