Back to school with the theme from Grange Hill

The summer holidays are almost over, and it’s ‘back to school’ for some kids, parents and teachers this week. To mark the start of another year of studiousness – or perhaps more likely – smoking behind the bike sheds, Alan Hawkshaw, the master of composing theme music for television and film, tells M about the creation of the classic music to the much-loved TV school drama Grange Hill

The theme to Grange Hill is actually called Chicken Man because it’s a library piece. That means it can be used for whatever a client wants to use it for providing they pay for it. So that was a piece of music written an hour before a recording session in Munich and the players on it were Alan Parker, Frank Ricotti, Les Hurdle on bass, Barry Morgan on drums, Mike Moran and myself on keyboards. That was the recording of it, it was done in haste just before the session.

We had some space to fill and I think what was suggested was that we do a quirky piece and I said: ‘give us an hour and I’ll whip something up’. It was one of those things that’s hard to remember, but I just did it, it just happened – as music often does.

Chicken Man was issued on a library album and someone at the BBC picked it up and thought it would be right for Grange Hill, the story of kids at school, as it was kind of tongue in cheek.

Then, years later once it was quite a well-known theme tune, I had a phone call from a producer at Thames Television who said they’d love to use this piece of music, Chicken Man, as the theme for Give Us A Clue. I replied ‘well, with my hand on my heart are you aware it’s already being used as the theme to Grange Hill?’ She said ‘yeah, we know about that, we need you to re-score it, make it a bit different’. So I went to Thames, re-scored it and they used it for however long – quite a few years.

It has been used in other countries for various things, if I looked at the PRS statement I would see it in quite a lot of territories.

we all like the music that reminds us of being young kids and teenagers

To be honest, nobody can foretell what will happen to any piece of music, you don’t know if a series is going to be a hit or not. We just did what was our energetic kind of funky music, maybe it was a tiny bit ahead of it’s time. I mean, it was popular then but it’s even more popular now. I’m happy when people say they like it, it’s obviously what they were listening to when they grew up and we all like the music that reminds us of being young kids and teenagers.