A long long time ago, I can still remember…
But this is not a reminiscence about Don MacLean, but about another piece of music entirely.
Some time in the Nineties, I began to get fragmentary memories of a distinctive piece of music. At first, there was only a tiny fraction of melody that, try as I might, I could not resolve into enough of a full tune to give myself a decent chance of remembering it.
It stayed as scanty as that for literally years, floating into and out of my head at irregular intervals. The segment expanded slightly: a roll of drums preceded it. I began to have vague images join my piece of music. A speedboat, crashing across the waves from crest to crest.
I began to ask myself, was I recalling the theme music to Freewheelers?
It’s practically forgotten today, and only parts of some of the later series still exist, but in the mid-Sixties, Southern TV’s Freewheelers was a massive phenomenon, syndicated in the pre-ITV News slot, with a handful of spin-off novels to boot. It was a teenage action drama series, starring a two boy, one girl line-up, three teenagers coming together accidentally to get involved in espionage and crimes. They began by helping British Secret Service Agent Colonel Buchan, played by Ronald Leigh-Hunt, and despite this being only a supposed one-off, the Freewheelers kept getting involved in case after case of Buchan’s.
Being made by Southern TV, there was a strong aquatic element to the stories, taking full advantage of location filming on the Channel. From time to time, the cast would change: Adrian Wright as Mike had the longest lasting role, but the initial line-up included Tom Owen, son of Bill, as a working class lad complete with serious young poet denim cap, whilst Wendy Padbury, fresh from playing companion to the Second Doctor, was added in series 5, playing well below her real age.
It was a good fun show, but then ITV teen drama in the Sixties and early Seventies was frequently very strong and greatly imaginative.
But that did me no good with my scrap of music.
By now, we’re in the early 2000’s, and our regular Saturday morning entertainment is Sounds of the Sixties from 8.00 – 10.00 am on Saturday mornings. There’s a transistor radio in our bedroom, and the timer on the hi-fi automatically records the two hour programme so that if any unknown gems come on – and at the time, producer Roger ‘The Vocalist’ Bowman is plucking wonderful obscurities out of this air on a regular basis – they can be copied over to a permanent cassette tape.
Besides, several times I’m the only one awake and listening from 8.00am and a tape of the programme ensures that anyone sleeping in can hear it at leisure.
Then, as now, the show goes to the Nine O’Clock news – end of Side 1 – with an instrumental. I am listening to the show and to gentle breathing on my immediate right, when Brian Matthew announces that this weeks instrumental is Teenage Carnival by The Carnaby Street Pops Orchestra. I know, sounds awful doesn’t it.
Then a drumroll pours out of the speakers and my head jerks round because I recognise it instantly, two beats, that’s all I need. It’s that piece of music that’s plagued me for years by now, I’m listening to it, and I’m actually taping it! I have it!
It was the instantenaity of it that astonished me. Just two beats on the drum, and I didn’t need the first note of a musical instrument to know what I was listening to. It was a classic Sixties TV theme tune, broad, expansive, sweeping, a great melody. And the speedboat crashed across the crests with an older man at the wheel and a younger man in a white t-shirt beside him.
This was the moment at which I was more than fifty percent convinced this was Freewheelers: Teenage Carnival by The Carnaby Street Pops Orchestra meant nothing to me. I e-mailed the show, identified the track played, asked if this was indeed the theme I suspected.
And two Saturdays later, once again the only one listening whilst my lovely spouse dozed on, my name came over the radio, my enquiry turned into a request! I didn’t get an answer – but I got the track played again!
Nothing daunted, I started seriously researching on-line, and it didn’t take me long to confirm, despite some initial claims for another, far less memorable piece of music, that I was right all along. Imagine that!
No copies of the early series with Tom Owen are extant, sad to say, but Wendy Padbury fares better, which is a pleasure because she was a sweet, delicate, elfin lady who was a sight for my naive eyes at a time when I was beginning to recognise that girls differed from boys in more ways than just having longer hair and wearing skirts.
We can never really recapture the impact of teenage hormones. But sooner or later we can recognise a Teenage Carnival