It seems that one of the most unsung heroes when it comes to making television series is, ironically, the composer. The musical score is a critical part of whether a show succeeds or fails, acting as an unseen character which is there to create a particular mood or atmosphere, accentuating just what the writers, directors and actors have already built.
Whereas some names of movie composers would most likely trip off the tongue without too much difficulty, it may not be quite so easy when it comes to the small screen. Yet there are numerous examples of musicians who graduated from TV to film scores, like John Williams, who – as ‘Johnny Williams’ – wrote theme tunes for Lost In Space and The Time Tunnel; in other instances, somebody like Bernard Herrmann would spend their career happily working in both media, providing us with memorable, distinctive music for The Twilight Zone, as well as for Vertigo and Psycho.
Heck, even an Oscar winner like Hans Zimmer – who scored The Dark Knight Trilogy, Gladiator and Man Of Steel – was responsible for giving us the infuriatingly catchy theme tune to 1980s Euro cheesefest quiz show Going For Gold. As such, there should be absolutely no stigma attached to composing music for television, nor should it be seen as being in any way less significant than its cinematic equivalent, as it has played a major part in all our lives.
Neil Brand’s recent BBC Four series The Sound Of TV took a closer look at the impact the music we hear from the box in the corners of our living rooms or bedrooms has on us, right from an early age. The show looked at its influence through advertising jingles, theme tunes, and incidental music, the latter in particular having increased in importance from the earliest days of TV broadcasting, right through to the high-profile, big budget productions made for today’s streaming services.
One person whose name might not necessarily ring a bell is Barry Gray, yet his work would form part of the soundtrack to a great many people’s childhoods. He scored the Gerry & Sylvia Anderson series which were made between the 1950s and 1970s, including Supercar, Stingray, Captain Scarlet And The Mysterons, Thunderbirds, UFO, and Space: 1999. Some of his memorable theme tunes also formed the basis of remixes on the album Power Themes 90, turning the title tracks of classic shows into modern dance music.
The 2014 documentary Filmed In Supermarionation gave a useful overview of Gray’s work with the Andersons during their puppeteering heyday. The BBC Radio 3 series Sound Of Cinema also did an episode hosted by Gerry Anderson’s son Jamie, alongside presenter Matthew Sweet, which looked at Gray’s music. However, it seems almost criminal that Barry Gray still does not have a higher public profile, despite him having written such iconic and recognisable pieces of music which form part of our televisual landscape.
Thankfully, efforts are being made to preserve and promote his work and legacy, making sure that it very deservedly gets to be heard by as wide an audience as possible. Fanderson – The Official Gerry And Sylvia Anderson Appreciation Society – has access to Gray’s original studio tapes, and has carried out restoration, in order for Gray’s music to be commercially released. His work on Fireball XL5 is now the fourth release by Silva Screen Records, in association with Fanderson, in a series dedicated to celebrating the music of the Andersons’ TV series.
Fireball XL5 is one of the shows which tends not to get quite as much exposure as the ones which followed, likely due to it having been produced in black & white; however, even if you have never seen the programme – telling the exploits of the intrepid crew of the titular ship, headed up by Colonel Steve Zodiac in the year 2062 – then you may well have heard the theme music, with a memorable rendition of it having been performed by Sean Pertwee, during a karaoke scene in Love, Honour And Obey, a UK gangster flick which came out in the year 2000.
The track – ‘Fireball’ – is included here, in both original and single versions, having made a moderate dent on the British charts back in 1963; the tune – which in fact actually played over the end credits – is a very bouncy piece of pre-Beatles pop, which is just ridiculously catchy, and it makes you wish that you were a spaceman, the fastest guy alive, so you too could fly around the universe in Fireball XL5. The main title track from the opening credits also had a single release – as ‘Zero G’ – which is included here as well.
Gray’s musical style may sound a little overdramatic and in-your-face compared to modern TV soundtracks, but there is no denying just how distinctive it is, to the extent that if you heard a random snippet, you would probably be able to place it as being from one of the Andersons’ TV shows, even if you were unable to put Gray’s name to it. This album – which is taken from across 16 episodes – shows Gray’s versatility, in being able to jump from bold and brassy orchestral pieces, to contemporary jazz, and even playful circus music, while also incorporating electronica into the score.
Silva Screen Records and Fanderson are doing a great job in working to give Gray the recognition that he truly deserves, and this album of his compositions for Fireball XL5 shows you how much of a master craftsman he truly was. Listening to this, you realise that his music was far better than it had any right to be for a children’s puppet show, and just how lucky we are that he was there, giving it his all.
Fireball XL5: Original Television Soundtrack is out now on 22nd January, from Silva Screen Records.