By William M. Dowd
If you’re a fan of British TV sit-coms, you’re familiar with the work of Ronnie Hazlehurst. It’s been all over public television station WMHT in the Capital Region for decades.
Unlike many American sit-coms that rely on raucous music and lyrics for their themes, the Brits tend to prefer a more restrained, streamlined style, and Hazlehurst (right) was its master.
The man who composed the theme songs to, among others, “Are You Being Served?,” “Last of the Summer Wine,” “Yes, Minister,” “Yes, Prime Minister,” “To the Manor Born,” “Two Ronnies” and “The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin” died Monday night at the age of 79 from the effects of a stroke.
Hazlehurst also was a noted conductor and music arranger. Among his projects was the film “The English Patient.”
Alan Bell, the producer of “Last of the Summer Wine,” told the BBC: “His music captured the mood immediately. If a character was walking, all the footsteps would be in time with the music and, if there was a little hand gesture, there would be a little figure that would accompany that. He was very precise with it. The musicians said they didn’t know how he did it it was so painstaking. Musically, he was the king.”
Hazlehurst began his career as a jazz trumpeter and became the musical director of the BBC. He wasn’t above a few antics, either. In the 1977 Eurovision Song Contest, a huge competition each year in Europe, he conducted his country’s entry with a rolled-up umbrella rather than a baton. In 1999, he received a gold award from the British Academy of Composers and Songwriters.
Luckily, given the remarkable staying power of Britcoms on American TV, we’ll continue to have Ronnie’s work with us for years to come.
If you’d like to hear a few bits from some of the TV shows that illustrate his range, try these links:
Last of the Summer Wine
The Two Ronnies
The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin