H is for Ronnie Hazlehurst

I am again focusing on the famous, the forgotten and the misbegotten for
my contributions to round 18 of the popular ABC Wednesday meme.

Ronnie HazlehurstRonnie Hazlehurst is the man behind the theme tunes for many of the BBC’s best loved sitcoms and include him for my ABC gallery not just because he fits the letter H, but also for other personal reasons.

For a starters, he was born in my home town of Dukinfield in 1928, the son of a railway worker and a piano teacher.

He also attended Hyde Grammar School, as did I quite a few years later. And if that were not reason enough, Hazlehurst was a contemporary of my dad’s and one of the gang that went the equivalent of clubbing in their youth.

But enough of the self-indulgence, Hazlehurst is acknowledge as one of the great tv theme tune composers, certainly in the UK, writing for programmes such as Last of the Summer Wine, The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin, Only Fools and Horses, The Two Ronnies, Blankety Blank and The Generation Game.

Kneller Hall

Kneller Hall

Hazlehurst left school at 14 to work as a clerk in a local cotton mill and then did his National Service as a bandsman in the 4th/7th Royal Dragoon Guards where he was nominated to attend the Royal Military School of Music at Kneller Hall near Twickenham.

When he was demobbed in 1949, he played in a band in his spare time, working the dancehalls in the area, which is when my dad knew him. Hazlehurst gave up his day job and became a professional musician in Manchester and then in London when bandleader Woolf Phillips employed him as his deputy at the Pigalle nightclub.

Hazlehurst’s instrument was the trumpet, but by 1957 he had more or less abandoned playing to concentrate on orchestration and musical arrangement, mostly for Granada Television.

In 1961 he was appointed as a staff arranger by the BBC and his first big break came the following year when he scored and arranged the programme for a concert at the Royal Albert Hall to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the BBC. In 1968 he became the Light Entertainments Musical Director which his when he became responsible for the theme tunes mentioned above.

Hazlehurst’s great talent was to fit the theme to the programme, such as incorporating the ching of a cash register for Are You Being Served? and the chimes of Big Ben for Yes, Minister.

But cleverest of all was his spelling out the title of Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em in morse code which you can listen to in the video right.

Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em scoreYou can enlarge the score on the right to see how it worked and while the trick is not unique, it came long before Barrington Pheloung famously did the same for the detective show Morse. And Hazlehurst was paid just £30 for the composition.

Hazlehurst was also involved with the Eurovision Song Contest and was the musical director when the event was hosted by the UK in 1974, 1977 and 1982. He also conducted the British entry on seven occasions, and in 1977 wore a bowler hat and conducted the orchestra with a closed umbrella when accompanying Lynsey de Paul and the UK entry, Rock Bottom.

Hazlehurst moved to Guernsey in 1997 and he was awarded a Gold Badge from the British Academy of Composers and Songwriters in 1999. He died after suffering a stroke in 2007.

For more information on Ronnie Hazlehurst, see his Wikipedia entry, BBC Magazine, his Telegraph obituary and Tameside Council Blue Plaque page.

Nobody’s prefect. If you find any spelling mistakes or other errors in this post, please let me know by highlighting the text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.

10 comments… Add yours
  • ♫ M e l ☺ d y ♫ 2nd March 2016

    What a lovely hommage… i don’t know the tunes ofcourse, i rarely watch English tv, and if i do, only crime-series 😉

    But…. like him….more people deserve the credits more visible then they often get.

    Have a nice ABC-Wednes-day / – week
    ♫ M e l ☺ d y ♫ (abc-w-team)

    Reply
  • Yorkshire Pudding 2nd March 2016

    Ronnie Hazelhurst, the second best thing to come out of Dukinfield after the B6170 that in turn leads to the A57 at Mottram and onwards to Yorkshire.

    Reply
  • Roger Green 2nd March 2016

    Has that distinctive British TV theme sound, which I cannot describe any further..

    ROG, ABCW

    Reply
  • gerald 2nd March 2016

    I didn’t know all that – good to hear it.

    Reply
  • Reader Wil 2nd March 2016

    Thank you for telling about Ronnie Hazlehurst. He is quite an impressive guy. I always watch English sitcoms, they are very popular in my country too.
    It’s nice to know that he also lived on Guernsey. The exterior of his house is quite different from the interior as far as style and design go. The house was probably designed by another architect. We found it very interesting.
    Have a great week!
    Wil, ABCW Team.

    Reply
  • Janis 2nd March 2016

    Mr. Hazelhurst lived a fine and interesting life, thank you for sharing his story!

    Reply
  • Lee 4th March 2016

    An interesting background to the man who was involved in some wonderful shows. And the next time I watch the re-runs of such shows (and no doubt there will be) I’ll take special note.

    I’m still a huge fan of Michael Crawford…for me he can do no wrong. Only yesterday I saw him in an interview (which was done a few years ago with a well-known TV journo/host in this country). He will always make me laugh (and sometimes squirm) as Frank Spencer. He will always make me cry as The Phantom of the Opera…and I will always be in awe of his Barnum.

    Reply
  • Trevor Rowley 6th March 2016

    A strange coincidence that Ronnie was born in Dukinfield in 1928, the same year as Minnie Higginbottom. She went on to be Kathy Staff and one of the stars of “Last of the Summer Wine.” The evocative theme music for the series was Ronnie’s work and Kathy was everybody’s favourite, loveable battleaxe, Norah Batty. I wonder if they ever reminisced about Dukinfield whenever they got together – perhaps the aroma of the the abbatoir down near the river at County Bridge, the sound at night of the trains shunting in the railway sidings at Dewsnap Lane or even the call of the rag and bone man as he weaved his way down Town Lane with the promise of a balloon for the kids.

    Reply
    • Mr Parrot 7th March 2016

      I knew Kathy Staff, of course, since she was a friend of my mum, both regulars at St Mark’s and member of the Mothers’ Union. Whether or not she and Ronnie met often or at all, I have no idea, but you would like to think that they did.

      Reply
  • Trevor Rowley 6th March 2016

    …for “abbatoir” read abattoir.

    Ta

    Reply

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