Theme tunes are really important, not only are they often the first thing we are exposed to when watching a tv show but they also give the show’s creators a great opportunity to get us hooked before even a line of dialogue is spoken. Everybody has their favourites, whether its from a childhood cartoon or a show they watch today, we can all rattle off a few tv themes that stand out in our minds. That’s what I’m going to do here, list my ten favourite tv theme tunes of all time and explain why I like them so much. Naturally these choices reflect my own opinion so don’t be disappointed if something you love doesn’t come up.
Acting as a sort of soap opera for school kids, Grange Hill has become something of a British institution over the years. Dealing with issues such as drugs, bullying, disability, and rape, Grange Hill is one of the most iconic children’s television shows ever made. Personally I never really watched it, it was mostly just one of those shows that happened to be on when I got home from school so I just left it on while I ate what little of my lunch I didn’t already eat.
While the show itself never really blew me away I did like the theme tune. It’s kind of perfect for what Grange Hill is as a show. It’s playful but also laid back. To me it absolutely encapsulates exactly what its trying to represent, secondary school kids with their shirts untucked and their loose ties, not really bothering to pay attention and just hanging out. Grange Hill might not have been my favourite show growing up as a kid, but it’s theme is pretty great.
Going from I show I sort of watched to a show I’ve never ever seen, I Dream of Jeannie stars Larry Hagman as astronaut Tony Nelson who crash lands on a South Pacific island after a space mission and discovers a genie called Jeannie-
-Played by Barbara Eden. The show goes from their, chronicling the relationship between the two characters, the interesting people they meet and the crazy shenanigans that occur. I won’t lie, it sounds pretty stupid, fun, yes, but stupid. The theme tune, again, perfectly encapsulates that. Incredibly catchy, I Dream of Jeannie’s theme tune is upbeat, light and fun. It clearly doesn’t take itself too seriously and does a great job of setting you up for a silly 20 minutes of ridiculousness. Hell, based on the theme alone, I might even take a look at the show itself, and isn’t that exactly what a theme tune is supposed to do?
Again, this is another tv show I’ve barely seen but whose theme tune I love. Cagney and Lacey was really pretty revolutionary at the time, inspired by feminist ideas, producer Barney Wosenzweig set about creating a female buddy cop movie, which then became a tv show. Starring Sharon Gless as Christine Cagney and Tyne Daly as Mary Beth Lacey the show ran for seven successful seasons and is widely regarded as one of the most beloved buddy cop shows of all time.
The theme is just amazing. Super upbeat and punchy, it opens perfectly and only gets better. It just feels so apt, two strong female characters kicking ass and taking names. It somehow manages to combine the energy of a typical cop show theme and something more inspirational. I don’t know, it might just be me but where I hear this theme I can’t help but imagine a woman walking into a male dominated environment and just owning it. I love it.
I’ve talked about Born to Kill? And how good it is before on this site, for a show about serial killers, a genre that is often incredibly exploitative, Born to Kill? Has a lot of respect for the killer’s victims and their families. One of the strangest things the show excels at however, is the music. Good God, it is incredible. I cannot fault it. The score is consistently haunting, somber, tense, and shocking without stepping over into exploitation. While not my favourite piece of music in the series, the opening theme of the show is amazing. It is a perfect fit for the series as a whole. It’s dark and grimy. The whole thing feels dirty, like your walking through an old neglected prison and looking at the inmates through their cell doors. In some way it reminds me of Leatherface’s house from Texas Chainsaw Massacre, like it takes you to a truly horrible place that you’d really like to leave. Born to Kill? theme is such a great fit but there is a major problem: it is almost impossible to find. I honestly could not find the original version of it, nor any other theme from the show, online. You know where Google sent me where I tried looking for it? Julia Bradbury’s personal website, specifically her credits page. I’m not joking. For the many of you who don’t know, Julia Bradbury is an English television presenter. Not a serial killer.
Thankfully I emailed a member of the Born to Kill? production team who pointed me in the right direction, and for that I’m incredibly grateful. Despite the fact that the soundtrack, like the show itself, is really difficult to find, Born to Kill? has a truly fantastic theme, and one that continues to haunt my John Wayne Gacy themed nightmares to this day.
It’s a sad fact that one of the most successful shows in British television history is hated by so many. I don’t understand it, I think Last of the Summer Wine is a simple but charming show. Featuring a rotating cast of pensioners, Last of the Summer Wine focuses on the retirement days of three senior citizens who, now unburdened by jobs and children, are free to do as they please, essentially reverting to childhood and causing mischief to stave off boredom. I quite like Last of the Summer Wine. It’s not a brilliant show but it is a really easy watch, just stick an episode on and enjoy some nice shots of Yorkshire and old people acting like 8 year olds. Much like Donald Trump if he lived in the Dales.
Last of the Summer Wine feels slow, probably why so many dislike it, but its slow in a good way, like there’s no rush whatsoever. The theme is this to a T. It feels like your going for a walk in the countryside, no reason, no purpose, just a walk. That’s really refreshing, the characters in the show have no purpose, they just want to find something to do and the theme tune is like that as well, it doesn’t mind if you forget it, or if you gain nothing from it in the long run, just as long as you enjoy the experience.
Yeah, I’m going to get some hate for this one. I know everybody loves the Game of Thrones theme, and I do really like it, just not as much as everyone else. I don’t need to go into the basics of what Game of Thrones is, everybody knows it, all I’m going to talk about is the theme. It’s great. The whole thing. It’s big and epic, just like Game of Thrones. It feels like it’s a bit of history in itself, its honestly hard to talk about because its become such a massive part of culture in its own right. There isn’t really much else I can say, you all know it, you all love it. It’s a big theme for a big show.
My other number 5 theme is something many of you may know as well, though nowhere near as many of you as knew Game of Thrones. Another semi-iconic British show, The Professionals starred Martin Shaw, Lewis Collins, and Gordon Jackson as CI5 agents, whose main job was to deal with criminals too powerful for law enforcement but not big enough for special forces. Again, I’ve not seen this show but from what I’ve seen so far, its pretty much just another run of the mill 1970’s British cop show. Honestly, you’re probably better off watching Life on Mars.
If The Professionals looks like a generic cop show then, to be brutally honest, the theme tune kind of is to, its basically just another, action packed theme full of brass getting you pumped up to see men with terrible hair beat suspects to a bloody pulp. However, The Professionals theme does it so much better than anything else. It feels like a spy thriller and a police procedural rolled into one, and really that’s what The Professionals was. The whole theme just goes for it, like its telling you straight out, this is going to be an action packed 30 minutes with car chases, fight scenes, running, the lot.
Doctor Who is a British institution, the most successful science fiction show of all time and one of the most culturally significant shows in history. Fittingly enough, one of the greatest tv shows of all time has one of the best theme tunes of all time. These days we sort of take it for granted but in 1963, when Doctor Who was first shown on television, the theme must have been terrifying. Nothing like this had ever been seen before, it was completely different.
While much of the freshness of the theme has gone today, it remains a truly iconic piece of music. It feels alien, the whole thing sort of wails in parts but it’s also adventurous. It feels like your going on a great journey through space and time. The Doctor Who theme is both really alien and really human. Its new, but instantly recognisable. In a show full of great pieces of music, this is undoubtedly the best.
There are lots of iconic shows on this list and The Twilight Zone is no exception. Perhaps the greatest anthology series ever created, Rod Serling’s magnum opus The Twilight Zone was really ahead of its time. It was creepy, it was weird, it was chilling, but it could also be beautiful and inspiring, and full of hope for the future of man.
The theme is very similar to that analysis. It’s a strange and otherworldly bit of music. It feels like everything is off, dangerously so. It really does seem like you’ve entered an alien dimension, a dimension not of sight and sound but of mind. It’s alien, unsettling, and totally unique
If you want to watch the absolute worst of 1970’s mainstream British comedy, watch Are you Being Served? It’s homophobic, sexist, predictable, and, aside from Mrs Slocombe’s pussy which even then gets a bit on the nose after a while, is unfunny. There is, however, one thing Are you Being Served? got right. The theme tune is remarkable. Created by the legendary theme tune composer Ronnie Hazelhurst, Are You Being Served? Easily has one of the best tv themes of all time. Comprising only of the voice of a lift girl announcing goods available on each floor, a cash register opening, and a simple musical accompaniment, the theme is so simple but works so well. It also fits really well with the busy atmosphere of a department store with the cash register constantly ringing and the lift girl mentioning so many departments in such rapid succession, and I think what it really comes down to is that cash register, it’s just such an appealing noise and the whole theme is a treat to listen to. It really is great, not only is it Hazelhurst’s best work but its easily the best thing about a pretty dated comedy, and one of the best tv theme tunes of all time. I listened to it at least a dozen times when writing this and I know I’ll listen to it again in the future.
When I was younger, Midsomer Murders was one of my favourite shows, and as I’ve grown older, I can appreciate a lot of what made it great. While today it’s a generic run of the mill murder mystery, there was once a time when it was smarter than that. Midsomer Murders wasn’t just about solving crime, it was about a picture perfect, postcard England being exposed to the most brutal and depraved acts. Take the first episode for example, a woman and her son are practically decapitated by the killer who turns out to be in an incestuous relationship with her brother and the whole thing ends with them shooting themselves at point blank range with a shotgun. All this occurs in one of the most charming and picturesque villages you can imagine.
This contrast is emphasised by one of the eeriest pieces of music I think I have ever heard. It’s a strange, waltz like theme, its ghostly and otherworldly, which is down almost entirely to the use of a theremin, an electronic instrument that has been used in multiple science-fiction films including The Day the Earth Stood Still. That explains, then, why Midsomer Murder’s theme sounds somewhat extraterrestrial and paranormal at the same time. It can be jarring watching an episode of Midsomer Murders and seeing such quaint imagery associated with the traditional English village while the theme plays over it. It’s just a perfect theme, there’s not much else I can say, its eerie, otherworldly, fits the show perfectly, and is dripping in atmosphere. I love it and it is without a doubt my favourite television theme tune of all time.
So there you have it, my favourite tv theme tunes of all time. I have to say, I really loved looking through some of the best tv themes of all time and other people’s favourites, it really was a fun list to research and put together. I’d love to know what some of your favourite tv theme tunes are so feel free to list them below and tell me if you think I missed any good ones.