Cult Movies: Laurie Johnson’s superlative theme tunes for shows like The Avengers and The Professionals defined an entire era of TV

A photo of the late Laurie Johnson
Laurie Johnson The composer of classic TV themes for the likes of The Avengers and The Professionals has passed away

WHEN the time comes for me to keep my appointment with the Wicker Man upstairs, I’d quite like to be carried out to the theme tune from The New Avengers.

I appreciate that may sound a tad morbid, or even borderline tasteless, but hear me out. Picture the scene: the stuffy old standard church service is drawing to a close, with all the suitably respectful bowed heads and shuffling feet that inevitably entails when suddenly, just before the final curtain falls, the crack of those military drums, the rush of that horn section and the swell of that super funky bass line fills the room.

Suddenly, smiles are breaking out all over, heads start nodding and everyone leaves with a little pep in their step. It’s a nice thought isn’t it? I mean, let’s be honest, we’d all like to make that final journey to the strains of something cool, wouldn’t we - and it doesn’t get much cooler than the theme to The New Avengers, if you ask me.

Of course the theme tune to the 1970s adventures of Steed, Gambit and Purdey is only one of many mighty fine pieces of music penned by the great Laurie Johnson down the years. The composer, who passed away earlier this week at the ripe old age of 96, was a veritable master of the dynamic TV theme in the 60s and 70s.

A list of his credits from that golden era of TV includes everything from the unforgettable opening music of the Diana Rigg-fronted Avengers, which first appeared in 1965, to the suitably groovy theme for Jason King from 1971 and the spooky sig for the 70s drama series Thriller.

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It was Johnson who provided the original music for the long-running Johnny Morris-fronted kids nature series Animal Magic (1962), and he even created the famous four-note calling card that played every time Eamon Andrews got out his big red book for This is Your Life from 1969 onwards.

In fact, much of the classically trained composer’s best work is so indicative of the era in which it was made that it’s practically impossible to even think of something like The Professionals, that tough guy cop show with Lewis Collins and Martin Shaw as CI5 agents Bodie and Doyle, and Gordon Jackson as their no-nonsense boss Cowley, that ran on ITV for five series from 1977, without hearing Johnson’s pounding, wah-wah-fuelled theme tune in your head. His best TV themes encapsulated the entire ethos of the series they were written for in a mere 30 seconds, which is quite the trick if you think about it.

Of course, he also applied his skills to cinema screens as well, with excellent scores for cult favourites such as Kubrick’s Cold War masterpiece Dr Strangelove in 1964, director Robert Fuest’s fabulous 1970 thriller And Soon The Darkness, and Hammer’s flamboyant swashbuckling horror classic Captain Kronos Vampire Hunter in 1972.

Inevitably though, it’s those peerless small screen gems that we’ll keep coming back to - or, in my case, be carried out to. Much like the man who made them, they were uniformly smart, stylish and totally unforgettable.

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