10 of the Best 1960s TV Themes
Danger Man, known in the US as "Secret Agent", starred Patrick McGoohan as secret agent John Drake. The series was originally a half hour show that ran from 1960 to 1962. With the James Bond films initiating a spy craze in film and TV in the mid-1960s, Danger Man was revived in longer 50 minute episodes in a second run from 1964 to 1968.
The series had a couple of different theme tunes (including the Johnny Rivers song "Secret Agent Man" in the US), but this one, "High Wire" by Edwin Astley, is the best and most familiar.
Crime series Z Cars broke new ground in the early 1960s, leaving behind the cosier visions of British policing seen in series like Dixon of Dock Green. The policemen in Z Cars were no longer saints in uniform, but flawed people with their own problems.
The series is distinguished by its lively theme tune by Johnny Todd, which is lightly martial with jazzy elements, an appropriate way to move the boys in blue into the swinging sixties. The theme has since become popular intro music for some football teams.
The Saint made a star of Roger Moore, who played globe-trotting international man of mystery Simon Templar in this adventure series based on the books by Leslie Charteris.
The theme music was supposedly based on a theme by Charteris himself and is best utilised in the series title sequence, with its familiar "halo" introductory scene. A new theme was used for later seasons and, while it's pretty good, the original is still the best.
A new version of this theme was produced by Orbital for the 1997 film The Saint starring Val Kilmer and, unlike everything else in that film, it's quite good.
First broadcast in 1963, venerable sci-fi series Doctor Who has replaced its leading actor (many times), but not the original theme music composed by Ron Grainer. While different arrangements come and go, the basic tune remains the same and many people love this original 1960s version - with its out-of-this-world sound provided by Delia Derbyshire and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop - most of all.
The Avengers is one of the most enduring cult TV series of the 1960s. Originally a straightforward crime series, it mutated over the years into a surreal spy caper that usually teamed Patrick Macnee, as gentlemanly bowler-hatted British super spy John Steed, with a succession of glamorous female co-stars. The most famous of these were played by Honor Blackman, Diana Rigg and Linda Thorson.
The series original theme music was a moody, jazzy affair by John Dankworth, but by the mid-sixties it had been replaced by this more familiar and more upbeat theme by Laurie Johnson.
This video includes the new prologue scene, produced to mark the series transition to colour, as well as the opening and closing titles from its mid-sixties period.
Composer Barry Gray wrote many memorable themes for Gerry Anderson TV series, including Stingray, Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, UFO and Space: 1999.
The most famous of Anderson's productions is probably Thunderbirds, a puppet series featuring the exploits of International Rescue. Thunderbirds not only has an unbeatable intro, but it also boasts this heroic march, which is probably the best of Barry Gray's TV themes.
Unlike much later sci-fi of the 1970s and 1980s, Star Trek still has some of the can-do optimism of its era. That is encapsulated by the slightly otherworldly theme music by Alexander Courage, perfectly suggesting outer space adventures, strange new worlds, polystyrene rocks and sexy green-skinned dancing girls. This video features both the opening titles, with William Shatner's famous voice over, and the end title music.
Man in a Suitcase
A less well-known series than some others here, Man in a Suitcase starred American actor Richard Bradford as an ex-CIA man working as an international troubleshooter. Unlike other ITC series of the time, Bradford's character was a bit more down-to-earth and his car was a fun, but distinctly unglamorous, Hillman Imp.
The series theme tune was by Ron Grainer. It later had a second lease of life as the music for Chris Evans' 1990s Channel 4 entertainment show TFI Friday.
Cult spy series The Prisoner was an unofficial spin-off from Danger Man, as Patrick McGoohan plays an unnamed spy who tries and fails to resign from the secret service. Gassed and rendered unconscious, he wakes up in a mysterious Italianate village from which there is no escape. The series theme music was another composed by Ron Grainer.
Another spy series, this time dealing with the exploits of the IMF, also known as the
International Monetary Fund Impossible Missions Force.
Like Star Trek, the Mission: Impossible theme is made even more familiar by its use in subsequent spin-offs, in this case the Tom Cruise film series. This theme is by regular film composer Lalo Schifrin and part of the appeal is surely from the tension of that little lead in, suggesting that something exciting is imminent.