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.
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.
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.
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 www.rongrainer.org.uk.
Here is a selected set of albums and other discs with music by Ron Grainer.
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 MusicRoom.com as digital downloads (all for piano):