The quest for Arne
1 Jan 2002 4 comments. tbs.pm/1784
Richard Elen has been searching for 35 years for one tune
One of the things for which the internet, despite its faults, is to be praised is its ability to bring together people scattered across the globe who share a common interest, however it may seem obscure that interest might be.
Thus it was with great surprise recently that I stumbled across the collection of websites that form transdiffusion.org to find that not one but several hundred contributors had had the same experience as me – an experience that I had previous thought of as being unique. Like others who have written around this topic, there were occasions during the mid-sixties when I was not well enough to go to school and instead watched the Schools programming on TV – and discovered Rediffusion’s interlude music.
My parents, brother and two sisters had recently moved from Coventry to a house in Richmond Road, Kingston-upon-Thames. We had acquired what must have been our first, rented television, with a seventeen-inch screen, on which I had watched the first episode of Doctor Who. But at least as memorable were those ITV Schools Interludes, broadcast by Associated Rediffusion in the mid-sixties.
They were more memorable than the programmes themselves, certainly, and the music stuck with me. In fact it stuck with me forever. I had always been interested in music, and by this time I had sung in Coventry Cathedral Choir and was an avid listener to the Third Programme and beyond – an ancient general coverage receiver in my bedroom gave me access to shortwave too. But among the TV test card music, the offshore watery wireless stations, and my sister’s Beatles records, somehow these pieces stood out.
For those who don’t remember them – and perhaps for those who do – there were two Interludes, played between the afternoon’s Schools programming. Each consisted of a handful of pieces of music, followed by a pause, and then a final piece, during which the grey interlude caption was replaced by a clock, counting down and disappearing as the start of the next programme approached.
All the tunes remained with me, but it was that last piece that was always clearest in my mind. What was it? I had to know.
Before long, TV moved on, and I moved on, and not only were those interludes no longer played, I was no longer there to hear them. I went to college in nearby Twickenham and then moved into communications and ultimately into the recording industry.
Ultimately, I became the studio manager of a little recording studio in London’s Denmark Street, owned by EMI Music, and named after a music publishing company I’d never heard of before: KPM – Keith Prowse Maurice. I started working with composers whose names appear in Transdiffusion’s various microsites – Johnny Pearson, Keith Mansfield and Brian Bennett to name but three – and I discovered Library Music and how much it had been a part of British television’s history. I also discovered that KPM had previously been owned by, of all people, Rediffusion.
That tune had never gone away. I tried humming it to my boss at KPM, but he didn’t recognise it (his predecessor, Robin Philips, might have been a better bet, but he had gone on to found Bruton Music by then and I never asked him).
I found an extensive cache of 78s in the basement behind the studio from the days of yore – Francis Day and Hunter’s erstwhile music library – and while I found several pieces from the test cards and other TV music of years gone by (including Non Stop, by J. Malcolm and his orchestra, then still the ITN theme, and I even got to edit the piece of music used for News At Ten), That Piece never came to light.
I’d always been interested in broadcasting, too, and having sailed too close to the wind with the limitations of British radio broadcasting in the early seventies, I had ultimately gravitated towards amateur radio.
By now driving regularly between Croydon, where I was editing the recording magazine ‘Studio Sound’, and West Hampstead I was listening one day to the 2-metre VHF repeater at Crystal Palace and caught the tail end of a conversation in which I gathered that one of the participants had formerly worked for Rediffusion. I called him back as soon as I could and asked him if he knew the pieces of music I remembered. Yes he did, he told me – in fact it had been his job to put the discs on!
I never knew his last name, and his first name has now faded from memory. But he earned my undying gratitude by sending me a cassette copy of the music in question – plus several other things, including Rediffusion’s 1955-56 afternoon and evening start-up sequences. He was also kind enough to list the pieces of music used in the Interludes. Here is the list:
Schools Interlude – 1: Serious Doll, A Wagon Passes, Merry Doll, Aubade; 5 seconds silence; Arne. Schools Interlude – 2: Dreaming, Busy-ness, 18th Century Suite, 5 seconds silence, Arne.
The first four pieces in the first interlude, and the first two in the second, were from Elgar’s Nursery Suite. He transferred a copy of a ‘Music For Pleasure’ LP of the suite – and as soon as Chandos released a performance on CD, I went and bought it.
So That Piece was by Arne – Thomas Arne, 1710-1778, the 18th Century British composer who is best known today for writing ‘Rule Britannia’. But what was That Piece called? One answer, at least, was a few years more in coming, when one night I was listening to Classic FM and heard a harpsichord playing That Tune.
Suddenly glued to the loudspeakers, I discovered that the tune was the Allegro from Thomas Arne’s ‘G Major Sonata for Harpsichord’. But what I wanted was a small orchestral arrangement. I found an album that looked a likely candidate – but it too featured solo harpsichord only. And that was as far as I got.
Again, a few years went by. From time to time I would ask friends, people who might know, musicologists, classical recording engineers, but to no avail. And then suddenly there was the internet. I started doing searches and ultimately, up something came. There were references to Arne, and to ITV Schools music… in the same place! And also, here in the pages of transdiffusion.org, was another name for it: “Finale from ‘A Dance Suite'”.
The only trouble is, I can find absolutely nothing on a piece by Arne called anything like a Dance Suite. Is it perhaps a corruption of the name on my list for the previous item in Interlude 2, the mysterious “18th Century Suite” – a suite of five short pieces for small chamber orchestra? That’s another item I would dearly like to know more about.
Are they both by Arne? Unless the name is simply a rough label given by someone at Rediffusion to the suite, probably not. The size of the orchestra appears different – the “Arne” has a fuller orchestration – and “18th Century Suite” sounds like the name a modern composer might give to something “in the style of…” – perhaps even library music, and in fact I had looked for it during my time at KPM, with no success.
But at least I have copies of the original broadcast performances, albeit on cassette, from the original LP records, with the accompanying hiss and rumble from which such recordings suffer. With the discovery of transdiffusion.org and in particular sub-TV, I decided that it was time to transfer the tape to digital and clean it up.
And now I hope that, as a result, with some help from this new audience I can finally solve the mystery and track down That Piece once and for all. And the “18th Century Suite”, too. After 35 years, I am surely the closest to finding out that I have ever been.