Ron Grainer (1922-1981) - composer for film and television

Ron Grainer - photo Ron Grainer was born in Australia and it quickly became clear that music would feature strongly in his life. His mother played the piano, and Ron learned to play both violin and piano at a very young age. He later studied music at the Sydney Conservatory, until World War II where he suffered a severe leg injury in an accident. After the war he completed his musical studies concentrating on composition. Ron and his wife moved to England in 1952 where he found work initially as a pianist and accompanist for light entertainment shows, but television became increasingly more important in his subsequent career. In 1960 Grainer was commissioned to compose the theme and incidental music for a new detective series called "Maigret". The theme was a major hit and this was a pivotal point in Grainer's career as a composer.

Ron Grainer: The A to Z of British TV Themes - The Gon Grainer Years - soundtrack CD cover Over the next few years, Grainer was to write for a number of television productions but it was his theme tunes which made the biggest impression. He wrote the themes for "Comedy Playhouse", "Steptoe and Son", "That Was the Week That Was" and "Doctor Who". There was something about his themes which audiences related to: "Maigret" used harpsichord, banjo and clavichord to give the detective a Gallic feel, and "Old Ned" (the Steptoe theme) easily captured the scrap merchants' horse trundling along the streets, while the jazzy theme song for "That Was the Week That Was" (or TW3) seemed to mirror the show's lively mix of current affairs and comedy. (The lyrics to TW3 were written by Caryl Brahms and sung by Millicent Martin.) For Doctor Who Grainer wrote the theme as a piano instrumental which was then given to Delia Derbyshire at the BBC's Radiophonic Workshop. When Grainer heard the resulting music created by splicing together tones and effects on magnetic tape, he famously remarked "Did I write that?". Grainer attempted to get an on-screen credit for Derbyshire since her amazing work with electronic techniques was such a vital aspect of the resulting theme, but this wasn't allowed under BBC rules.

The Prisoner Original Soundtrack - Various Composers Around the same time, Grainer was also getting his first commissions for film scores. The films he scored were rarely in the major league and didn't result in soundtrack releases, but his film music is highly regarded. He worked on many films in the 1960s and in the 70s he scored "Hoffman" starring Peter Sellers, and the minor cult movie "The Omega Man" starring Charlton Heston. By this time Grainer had moved to Portugal with his second wife Jennifer. The light was good there for his eyes, and he felt relaxed and inspired by the countryside. Though staying abroad for several years he continued to work for British productions scoring more films, writing music for theatre and further television programmes. Many of those TV series developed a cult following (e.g. "Man in a Suitcase", "The Prisoner", "Paul Temple", and "Tales of the Unexpected") so his music is particularly well-known. Grainer suffered from a number of health problems in addition to his leg injury from the war. His eyesight started to fail in later years, and he died from cancer of the spine at the age of 58. Nevertheless his music lives on with those cult series getting many repeats and DVD releases. The Chris Evans show "TFI Friday" re-used his theme from "Man in a Suitcase" and "Doctor Who" made a resounding comeback to TV screens in 2005 and is now heading rapidly to its 50th anniversary in 2013.

Ron Grainer: Robert and Elizabeth (musical) - vinyl cover We shouldn't neglect Ron Grainer's contributions to theatre. His first musical was "Robert & Elizabeth" about Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett, based on "The Barretts of Wimpole Street". For this Grainer won his 3rd Ivor Novello award (his first two awards were for "Maigret" and "Steptoe and Son"). A second musical in 1966 was "On the Level" with lyricist Ronald Millar, and a third musical in 1970 was "Sing a Rude Song" with lyrics by Caryl Brahms & Ned Sherrin. The same team later wrote "Nickleby and Me" based on the Charles Dickens novel "Nicholas Nickleby". There is a comprehensive Ron Grainer website at

Film Music by Ron Grainer:

  • A Kind of Loving - for director John Schlesinger
  • Some People - while working on this film, Grainer met a British instrumental pop group called "The Eagles" - Grainer's first wife Margot became their manager and he arranged music for them
  • Ron Grainer: To Sir, With Love - DVD cover
  • Trial and Error
  • Flight from Treason
  • Station Six-Sahara
  • The Mouse on the Moon - Grainer's theme was covered by "The Countdowns" one of John Barry's Bands
  • We Joined the Navy
  • The Ballad of the Running Man - scored by William Alwyn but Grainer did the title music
  • The Guest
  • Nothing But the Best - including the title song sung by Millicent Martin (TW3) with lyrics by Frederic Raphael
  • Night Must Fall
  • Ron Grainer: The Omega Man - bluray cover
  • The Moon-Spinners
  • To Sir, with Love - the score but not the title song for this movie starring Sidney Poitier
  • Only When I Larf
  • The Assassination Bureau
  • Before Winter Comes
  • Lock Up Your Daughters! - film based on the musical written by Lionel Bart (Oliver!) and Laurie Johnson
  • In Search of Gregory
  • The Omega Man - starring Charlton Heston
  • Hoffman - starring Peter Sellers, and Grainer wrote the song "If There Ever Is a Next Time" with lyricist Don Black sung by Matt Monro
  • Mutiny on the Buses - second spinoff movie from the TV series starring Reg Varney
  • "Steptoe and Son" and "Steptoe and Son Ride Again" - these TV spinoffs were scored by Roy Budd but re-used Grainer's memorable theme
  • Sharon's Baby
  • One Away
  • The Bawdy Adventures of Tom Jones
  • Yellow Dog
  • Never Never Land

Television Music by Ron Grainer:

  • "ITV Television Playhouse", "Saturday Playhouse" and "ITV Play of the Week" - music for one or more episodes of these dramas
  • Ron Grainer & Others: The Maigret Theme and Other Themes - soundtrack CD cover
  • The Men from Room 13
  • Oliver Twist - TV mini-series
  • Late Summer Affair - TV movie
  • The Six Proud Walkers
  • The Net
  • It's a Square World
  • Benny Hill - several episodes
  • The Old Curiosity Shop - TV mini-series
  • Giants of Steam - BBC documentary
  • Maigret - theme and incidental music
  • That Was the Week That Was - and sequel show "Not So Much a Programme, More a Way of Life" hosted by David Frost with many comedy legends and the theme song sung by Millicent Martin
  • Fanny Cradock - Grainer's theme for her 1963 cookery show was called "Buttered Crumpet"
  • Ron Grainer: Doctor Who - piano sheet music cover
  • Steptoe and Son - with its theme known as "Old Ned"
  • Doctor Who - theme music initially realised by Delia Derbyshire and periodically re-arranged as the series evolved, for more information see our article Doctor Who Music
  • The Flying Swan
  • Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color: The Legend of Young Dick Turpin
  • All Gas and Gaiters - theme for the pilot, though the series was scored by Stanley Myers
  • Uncle Charles
  • Blandings Castle
  • Danger Island
  • Long After Summer - TV movie
  • Boy Meets Girl
  • The Prisoner - earlier themes by Robert Farnon & Wilfred Josephs were rejected before Grainer's was accepted, though all 3 composers plus Albert Elms contributed music to the series as a whole
  • The Ron Grainer Orchestra: The Prisoner - soundtrack CD cover
  • Man in a Suitcase
  • The Jazz Age
  • Paul Temple - Grainer wrote the theme and the incidental music was composed by fellow Australian Dudley Simpson
  • The Trouble with Lilian
  • For the Love of Ada
  • The Train Now Standing
  • Comedy Playhouse
  • South Riding
  • Romance
  • Armchair Thriller
  • Ron Grainer - photo 2
  • Born and Bred
  • Edward & Mrs. Simpson - TV mini-series
  • Rebecca
  • Mystery!: Malice Aforethought
  • ITV Playhouse
  • A Question of Guilt
  • "Sunday Night Thriller" and "Saturday Night Thriller"
  • Shelley
  • It Takes a Worried Man
  • Tales of the Unexpected - the Roald Dahl anthology series with plot twists and a memorable merry-go-round theme
  • Doctor Who (The TV Movie starring Paul McGann)- Grainer's theme was updated and given the orchestral treatment by John Debney

Ron Grainer - CD and DVD Recommendations:

Here is a selected set of albums and other discs with music by Ron Grainer.

    The Avengers and Other Top Sizties TV Themes - soundtrack CD cover
  • The Maigret Theme and Other Themes from the series (includes other TV music played by the Ron Grainer Orchestra) - and
  • The A To Z Of British TV Themes - The Ron Grainer Years (limited availability and different editions had different covers) - and
  • The Prisoner Original Soundtrack - lots of music from the series by Robert Farnon, Wilfrid Josephs, Ron Grainer & Albert Elms on 3 CDs - and (Highlights only MP3 download)
  • The Avengers and Other Top Sixties TV Themes (on 2 CDs) music by Ron Grainer, Laurie Johnson, Barry Gray and many others - and
  • The Omega Man - Bluray region free disc - and
  • To Sir, With Love - on DVD - (region 2) and (region 1)

Ron Grainer - Sheet Music Recommendations:

A number of Ron Grainer's TV themes are available as piano sheet music, the most popular being Doctor Who.

The following TV themes are available from as digital downloads (all for piano):