What is the music used in TV news programmes?
TV news is part and parcel of most people’s daily routine, whether you get up with BBC Breakfast or eat your dinner with Channel 4 News. But have you ever wondered about the music at the beginning and end?
A great news theme – in fact, any great TV theme – needs to become a signature, something familiar, strong and trusted; that’s why – in fact – the music for the UK’s main news programmes has gone relatively unchanged over the years.
That said, the BBC has rebranded its news offering (and its music) a number of times in the last 30-odd years.
For 20 years, though, all of the BBC’s main news broadcasts, including regional programmes and bulletins on BBC World, have featured music by composer David Lowe.
Using the classic radio ‘pips’ – the tones you’d hear before the hourly news – David created a pulsating, modern musical palette for the BBC’s news programmes and has been tweaking it here and there ever since.
David Lowe's original 1999 BBC News theme
Lowe, who also composed the familiar themes for The One Show, Countryfile and Grand Designs, gave the BBC’s Panorama theme a new hue, too. That original theme was actually borrowed from the score for the French film Un homme et une femme by the late Francis Lai.
Before Lowe, it was veteran film and television composer George Fenton who looked after most of the BBC’s news themes. He created classic themes for Breakfast, The One O’Clock News and The Nine O’Clock News a couple of times over (in the ’80s and ‘90s), not to mention Newsnight.
George Fenton interviewed about news themes...
The other side(s)
Of course, you are allowed to watch and enjoy other news providers, so it might be that ITV’s flagship News at Ten is more your cup of cocoa before bed. That programme has enjoyed the same dramatic intro since the 1970s.
For years, the ITN News (as it was known) was served by John Malcolm’s piece ‘Non Stop’ which was, like so many early TV themes, actually written as library music.
The replacement was by composer Johnny Pearson, though it originated in a much longer piece called ‘The Awakening’.
Johnny Pearson's 'The Awakening' (skip to 3'29 to hear the ITN bit...)
Composer Dave Hewson looks after the more modern sheen on the themes for ITV news programmes these days, but the bones of the piece remain the same.
Over on Channel 4, which began life in 1982, we’ve been treated to yet another library music classic, this time by composer Alan Hawkshaw (whose other library piece ‘Chicken Man’ became the iconic theme tune to the BBC’s kids drama Grange Hill ).
Given it was available in a library, this most familiar of TV news themes (actually called 'Best Endeavours') has popped up elsewhere – including on NFL broadcasts in the US and even a Clint Eastwood film!
Alan Hawkshaw's 'Best Endeavours' AKA Channel 4 News
Across the pond
Speaking of the US; the nightly news across the pond has a long tradition of big orchestral intros. Most famously, perhaps, is the NBC Nightly News for which John Williams composed ‘The Mission’ in the 1980s.
John Williams's 'The Mission' closes a 1989 edition of NBC Nightly News
CBS News recently had a new theme, which gives Williams’s a run for its money, by composer Joel Deckerman. Prior to that, its evening news featured themes by the likes of Walt Levinsky and the late James Horner.
Joel Deckerman's music for CBS News
You may never watch, or hear, the news in the same way ever again.
Michael is the Reviews Editor of BBC Music Magazine. He was previously a freelance film music journalist and spent 15 years at St George's Bristol. Michael specialises in film and television music and was the Editor of MusicfromtheMovies.com. He has written for the BBC Proms, BBC Concert Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Royal Albert Hall, Hollywood in Vienna and Silva Screen Records.