Now that this Friday-night series on film music has reached the end of its first half-year — yes, this really will be the 26th posting in the sequence — I’d like to broaden the focus slightly to include TV music as well. I’ve been thinking for a while about doing this; what has finally prompted me to act is an anniversary which — as so often happens! — I saw highlighted on ‘social media’ this afternoon.
So, welcome to television — and, on this occasion, to a little reminder of the commercial network of independent and regional TV companies whose systematic destruction in the service of corporate profitability and political emasculation was one of the many foul consequences of the Thatcherite ‘Broadcasting Act 1990’. (May the evil bitch burn in Hell forever — surrounded by the collection of elite paedophiles she knowingly gathered around her.)
All right. Let me start by taking a step back, and introducing the important clips by way of a personal story whose significance is perhaps a little more than merely personal.
Back in, I believe, April and May 1972, my Wednesday afternoon walks home from school didn’t involve as much dawdling in the park as was usually the case: I knew that I had to be home before 5.20pm or I would miss a TV programme whose terrifying power was only increased by the fact that I hadn’t seen the first episode, and therefore had no idea what was the basis of the situation depicted. I assume that I must have gone on to see four or five out of the six episodes altogether; but however many it was, I remembered the look, the sound, many of the actual events, and the theme music.
Time passed, as time does. And while there came a point in the very late 70s when I heard that music again and recognised it immediately, I never saw a repeat of that children’s series, nor heard anyone else mention it, nor came across any book or story that it might have been based on. (It goes without saying that whatever acknowledgements the programme contained hadn’t impinged upon my consciousness at all…)
And then, about 25 years later — which was about 20 years ago — I was going out with a woman who was actually quite an influential personage in the world of children’s book publishing (and was therefore much too grand and over-remunerated to be lastingly interested in a low-earning nonentity like me). Anyhow, we were talking over coffee, one day, when I mentioned that there was a TV series I remembered from way back, and that I’d always wondered whether it was based on a recognisable book.
‘There was a girl who had a drawing pad…’, I began.
‘Marianne Dreams!’, she said, instantly.
‘What? You can tell from that…?’
‘Marianne Dreams. Catherine Storr. Faber and Faber, 1958. She’s ill and confined to bed. She’s drawn a house with a boy in it, and at night when she’s asleep she finds herself in that world. And all around the house are these horrible…’
‘Yup! That’s it!’
And, of course, when I went and checked, she was dead right. Marianne Dreams it was. What’s more, she actually gave me a copy of the old paperback as a ‘going away because I’ve found a rich and successful man’ present. Which I thought was nice.
Anyway, that tells you everything about everything — except the music. What was the music that haunted me as much as the rest of the programme did, staying with me right up to the time I suddenly heard it again on a library record seven or eight juvenile years later and almost jumped out of my chair? Well, it was taken from a British symphony that was first performed on 21 April 1948 — which, if you think about it, is just another way of saying that, back when our ATV children’s fantasy brought part of it into the lives of a million British children rigid with fear, it was actually less than 25 years old…
Here’s someone’s three-minute YouTube video presenting an unforgettable image from the programme as well as an unforgettable stretch of symphonism that provided the adaptation with its opening music…
And I’m not kidding. See…? (Yes, the colour is missing: only a black-and-white copy has survived the ravages of amoral private capital and the pathologically destructive, suicidally unsustainable system it has created.)
I’m going to include a segment from the end of that episode — partly because I actually remember it; but also because I want to help people understand the way I would reach the end of the programme in a state of hysterical panic…
I’ll get to the symphony itself in a minute. Before I do, I want to bring up another TV programme that connects with all this — albeit the other way round, as it were.
You see, although this other programme (also an ITV series!) started earlier than Escape into Night — I believe it began in 1970 and ran until 1972 — I knew nothing of it (or its various repeats) until a decade and more later; and I’ve never actually seen as much as a single episode all the way through. (Nothing personal; it’s just not my kind of thing.) In other words, I didn’t know about its theme music until long after I’d discovered the symphony from which it is taken…
So now I have to identify the work from which these two highly contrasting stretches of music have been drawn. And it is the Symphony No. 6 in E minor by Ralph Vaughan Williams — who was in his mid-70s when he wrote it , and still had three symphonies ahead of him…
I gather that the first performance — in the Royal Albert Hall, less than three years after the end of a six-year world war that had started with ‘Blitzkrieg‘ and ended with nuclear annihilation — was a jaw-dropping experience for those who heard it in a city much of which was still a massive bomb-site. (The great Deryck Cooke was among them, having recently moved to London to work for the BBC.) Anyone who’s never heard the work and now wants to encounter it with as little preparation as did that 1948 audience is hereby referrred to the following video of a performance in that same venue.
Maybe you’ll see what it was about this waking nightmare that affected them so deeply…
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