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So… some television themes that I find scary, eerie, unsettling, or any of the other words that Mr Roget saw fit to lump together in his best-selling novel. This isn’t to say that these particular bits of intro (or outro (is that even a word?)) music belong to programmes that are actually scary, but rather that they send a little tingle up my spine. Perhaps it’s the mix of deep bass and high-pitched notes, or perhaps it’s because it stirs a memory of childhood when everything was so much more terrifying than it is today. Except spiders. Those things have got worse as I’ve got older. It’s all the radiation from the satellites, I’m sure (*).
I’ve dithered. I do that. Let’s take a look at what makes me uneasy.
(*) Note to future historians of the early intarwebs: it’s probably not the radiation from the satellites at all; more likely it’s the radiation from the fusion-powered drones that patrol the skies monitoring us.
The Tomorrow People
Not a terrifying theme exactly – especially now that I’ve listened to it again – but the programme itself was not the most warm and cuddly. But then again, it was a kids’ programme from the seventies shown on ITV; they were all pretty much horrific for some reason. This show featured children developing weird powers and, well, I’m not really sure what else. The thing about British families in the seventies was that you tended to be either a BBC child or an ITV child when it came to watching TV after school. I was the former. Occasionally you’d switch to the other side but then you’d just end up watching a bit of a frightening science fiction show and you’d have to return to the safe embrace of Blue Peter and John Craven’s Newsround.
The Box Of Delights
Now this was a BBC programme and it still gives me a small sense of dread hearing it now. This one ticks all the right boxes starting with the title imagery: scary doll face, tramp, priest, wolf, that Victorian gothic/creeping terror. And the music too: high notes (on a harpsichord perhaps?) against a slow, violin backdrop leading into a Christmas tune that brings with it the sudden feeling of the cold and early, dark evenings. Shiver time!
Another BBC programme and a short and sweet intro that has decided to hold the sweet and then slide it into the bin when nobody’s looking. Early synthesiser music is scary no matter what anyone tells you and this particular theme has taken those old stalwarts of scary music production – the deep bass (well, as deep as this particular synth goes) and the high notes of whatever the hell type of instrument that’s supposed to be – to tickle both ends of the auditory canals at once. The show itself was a big favourite of mine seeing as I’ve always been a fan of science fiction and I’m now known as the Human Tripod on account of the size of my huge organ. And I’m not talking synthesiser here. Church organ baby! That’s where it’s at! Oh, and not penis either; there’s nothing remarkable in that department worthy of a nickname.
The Hardy Boys And Nancy Drew Mysteries
I don’t really remember watching this show although I seem to recall it being on TV, possibly BBC One on a Saturday evening. Subsequently, I also didn’t really remember the theme song either – certainly not enough to immediately want to add it to a list of scary themes – until I heard it played on a Retrospace podcast (now radio show) (plug: and if you grew up in the seventies and have fond or awful memories of the period then you really need to be subscribing to Retrospace in your RSS reader of choice if you aren’t already). Lovely orchestral arrangement that tells you something dark and mysterious is going on without even seeing a clip. The show itself might have been one long, gag-filled, slapstick adventure… but somehow I doubt it.
Hey! It’s a sci-fi programme! What are the odds? Anyone would think that I spent my entire childhood watching scary, negative science fiction and that’s why I have such a pessimistic view of the world at large now. Anyway, I loved this show. You knew you were in for a scare as soon as those immortal words were uttered: “A Quinn Martin production!” Aieeee! Fortunately, no Karl Malden or William Conrad to make you cower in fear this time; that role belongs to the title characters and their dispassionate way of blending in with humans (except for their fingers). The theme music gets those high-pitched notes mixing with a sombre, deeper tone once again; it’s the winning formula as far as my memory is concerned.
Tales Of The Unexpected
No list of scary TV theme music would be complete without Doctor Who so I’m going to leave this list incomplete by sticking Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected as my final choice. The programme itself would have been more accurately entitled Tales of the Bleeding Obvious but that didn’t stop it being quite frightening to me; late seventies/early eighties production values on British television were a terror in their own right. As for the theme music: that’s pure funfair horror. Remember: you can’t spell “funfair” without “scary man with stubble is going to abduct me and perform unspeakable horrors on my innocent body in full view of a toothless teen selling candy floss”. Nasty stuff.