The Light Programme

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by Elrik Merlin on Monday, 18 August, 2008

Today on Radio Riel, we are exploring the world of Light Music – from the earliest days of the genre, which started in the late 19th century, to its heyday after the Second World War.

Light Music’ – also known as ‘mood music’ or ‘concert music’ – is very much a British phenomenon, referring to a popular and tuneful style of orchestral music that had its origins in the seaside bands of the 19th and early 20th century. The style peaked around the middle of the 20th century and then fell from favour: on the one hand eclipsed by rock ‘n’ roll (many of its exponents by this time were the leaders of the Big Bands whose doom arrived during this period), but on the other continuing in hidden guise, in the form of ‘library music’ – music recorded for use in films, radio and later television – right up into the 1960s.

Light Music composers might at once have written for the British film-makers of the 1940s, the BBC Light Programme after the war, and perhaps for the emerging British independent television companies who required themes to open and close a day whose broadcasting hours were limited by statute. And at the same time, their work might be found in production studios on discs from the Chappell, deWolfe and KPM music libraries, unavailable to the public but often used for newsreel voiceovers, radio programme themes and, later, as music to play while British television was showing the Test Card outside broadcasting hours.

Light Music is characterised by a predominance of melody – generally memorable melody – which is one reason why it is a perfect companion to broadcasting, providing themes and even incidental music to drama, documentary, news and current affairs, and game shows. Often, people can recall the themes that punctuated their lives many, many decades ago.

Today, we’ll be hearing, among many others, from the Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra, The Palm Court Orchestra (descendants, in spirit at least, of Reginald Leopold’s original orchestra that played every week on the BBC Light Programme from the Palm Court of the Grand Hotel, Eastbourne) and a good deal from composer/arranger/conductor Mr Gavin Sutherland, one of the primary exponents of light music and related compositions in Britain. More or less single-handedly (along with Brian Kay on BBC Radio 3) he has brought British light music back from the grave and renewed our appreciation of a range of composers such as Richard Addinsell, William Alwyn, Eric Coates, Robert Farnon, Charles Williams, J Malcolm, Ronald Binge and many others. In addition we’ll be hearing from many lesser-known composers. Many of the original recordings have been re-issued on CD from companies like Vocalion and Guild, while Chandos, Naxos and especially White Line have released new, superb recordings of the classics.

If you would like to read more about some of the composers featured in today’s programme, please visit the Index of British Light Music Composers. There is also an article on Light Music in Wikipedia. In addition, do visit the web site of the Light Music Society.

The Light Programme is presented by Elrik Merlin.

You can listen to the programme now at — the ideal URL to plug into your home parcel media address in-world — or simply visit any Caledon Library branch in-world and press Play on your embedded music player. (If you want to listen off-world, eg in Winamp or iTunes, and the above address doesn’t work for you, click here.)


{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Elrik Merlin August 18, 2008 at 01:42

I received a query about the piece of music we started today's programme with (at about 00:15 SLT) that formed the centre of our opening.

It was the somewhat more upbeat of two arrangements of "Oranges and Lemons", composed by Jack Byfield, used to open the BBC Light Programme (thus its use today) in the 1950s.

Byfield also wrote the medley of British folk tunes, "National Airs", that opened the BBC Television Service during the same period.

Immediately following the opening, we played a medley by Robert Farnon called "Sounds Familiar", which brought together a collection of well-known television themes.


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