Who wrote the theme tune for 'Ski Sunday'?

It has been a staple of weekend winter viewing since its first broadcast in 1978, and in terms of its music the BBC’s Ski Sunday has stayed very much ‘on piste’, sticking with its original theme tune to this day. But what is it, and who wrote it?

Ski Sunday theme tune
Published: February 15, 2022 at 4:29 pm

It has been a staple of weekend winter viewing since its first broadcast in 1978, and in terms of its music the BBC’s Ski Sunday has stayed very much ‘on piste’, sticking with its original theme tune to this day. But what is it, and who wrote it?

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Ski Sunday was born of the BBC’s 1976 Winter Olympics coverage. With a nation’s appetite for such seasonal thrills well and truly whetted, a weekly Sunday afternoon show was devised, and it has become a firm fixture in the corporation’s telly schedule.

As was the case for many a popular programme of the day, including All Creatures Great and Small, Grandstand and its coverage of Wimbledon, the BBC looked to libraries of existing music for the Ski Sunday theme tune. It settled on a piece called ‘Pop Looks Bach’, a contemporary ditty for strings, hammond organ, brass and percussion by Sam Fonteyn. The title refers to the fact that it is (very) loosely based on JS Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565 – a piece usually associated more with Vampires and Opera Phantoms than downhill skiers.

Fonteyn (1925-91) was an English composer-pianist, born in Birmingham, and he wrote almost exclusively for music libraries. In this instance, the piece was written in 1970 for the Boosey & Hawkes library. His pieces have appeared in a variety of shows over the years, including popular animated shows like Spongebob Squarepants. In the UK, his other most famous tune is ‘School’s Out’, which was used as the theme for the 1968 comedy series, Please Sir!.

Like any library music, ‘Pop Looks Bach’ has been available for anyone to license and it has appeared on other shows, most notably the American television show The World Tomorrow.

But what is it about this tune that makes it so perfect for Ski Sunday? The tune has a great momentum and the downward motion of the strings and organ, punctuated by timpani, brass and flute, really does feel like we’re racing downhill or careering through a slalom.

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The piece has remained the show’s theme since day one, and was also the main music for the BBC’s Winter Olympics coverage until 2006. The current interpretation sticks close to the original, albeit with some 21st-century beats in the background.

Authors

Michael BeekReviews Editor, BBC Music Magazine

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.

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