The music of 80s TV was dominated by War Of The Worlds guy Jeff Wayne and hearing it now is a total timewarp...

He’s the enormously respected composer, arranger (and tour conductor) of the legendary 70s prog masterpiece The Musical Version of The War of The Worlds. It’s sold more than 15 million copies over four decades. (And later this year, 75-year-old Jeff Wayne heads out on a 40th anniversary UK tour.) But what’s less known about the maestro of Martian invasion is his long and illustrious career of composing scores for TV themes and commercials – from the late 60s up to and following the release of TWOTW in 1978, and far beyond. 

“My dad had commissioned me to write the score for his West End musical Two Cities – an adaptation of Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities,” says Jeff. “One of the investors in the musical was at the time one of the very top directors in advertising. Because he liked my score of the musical, he asked me to compose the music for a commercial.” 

Later that year, he says, “there was an awards ceremony – kind of like the Oscars of advertising. The music I wrote was featured and it won, so other advertising agencies wanted to use me.”

And the rest is gold-plated thematic history. A world of new wave futurism was just around the corner but Wayne was there already, a Mad Men-style whizz kid armed with surreal synthesiser symphonies that made you want to drink Gin and eat Fry’s Turkish Delight. It was Wayne's world. We just lived in it.

1. Fry’s Turkish Delight

First published in 1978, Edward W. Said’s ground-breaking polemic Orientalism was a damning indictment of the West’s patronising imitation and depiction of aspects in Middle Eastern, South Asian, and East Asian cultures. 

The ad agency handling Cadbury’s marketing account didn’t give a monkeys. 

Nothing sells faux exotic confectionery like dusky maidens and swarthy macho middle-eastern heroes in a hot ‘n’ steamy desert setting. This advert captures the mystery of the middle east: Noble traditions! Riding camels! Saucy goings-on in billowing tents! Using a fucking massive scimitar to unnecessarily slice delicate foodstuffs!

Sure, Fry's Turkish Delight tastes like hand sanitiser gel enrobed in cheap milk chocolate, but add Wayne’s enigmatic flautistry and synth wash and suddenly it’s glamorous and shrouded in mystique.

2. Gordon’s Gin

You can tell this ad is made for cinemas. While the camera slowly pans adoringly across a gently undulating meniscus of juniper-extracted alcohol in a branded bottle, piping synths and strings evoke fashionable cool, excitement and glamour all at once. 

You might have been just about to watch Smokey And The Bandit, but you sir, madam, were suave.

(The music for this ad was so ground-breaking for its time that it was covered by The Human League on their pre-breakthrough second album, Travelogue, just four years later, and produced by Martin Rushent who also just happened to be Jeff Wayne’s engineer during production of the original ad.)

3. TV:AM Good Morning Britain

Early 80s breakfast TV. The dream team of Anne Diamond and Nick Owen. Launched in 1983, GMB was a very genteel and pastoral start to the day. A much simpler, reined-in affair. Especially compared to the oppressive misery of Piers Morgan all up in your grill and shit first thing in the AM. Prior to the 80s, TV didn’t even start until the evening. Turn on the crystal bucket at lunchtime and you were greeted with a test card and a singular note drone. 

So you can imagine the excitement when you could get up and WATCH TV AT WHATEVER TIME OF DAY YOU WANTED. It was a new era and as usual, Jeff was on hand to gently ease us in. The theme evokes the dawning of a new day. Sunshine. The trials and tribulations of life. The touching emotion of every day existence. 

It’s the Led Zeppelin of daytime TV themes. By comparison, The One Show’s theme is the aural equivalent of a chimp clanging saucepan lids together and masturbating onto a Bontempi.

4. ITV’s World of Sport

Big Daddy bellying a succession of ill-advised contenders! John Conteh getting socked in the mooey! Lads hooning around on dirtbikes pretending that it’s athletic! Demolition derby! And a bit of token running and horse racing. This was what passed for ‘sports’ back in the early 80s. Sitting on the sofa all Saturday afternoon and watching this never-ending parade of soporific torpor while drinking tins of Skol meant you were officially a sports enthusiast. 

Jeff’s theme, of course, defies such lethargy. It contains more musical inspiration for breaking the four-minute mile than the first 60 seconds of Iron Maiden’s Phantom of The Opera. You get fit just listening to it.

5. BBC Sixty Minutes

An absolute stone-cold classic. Urgent, strident, provocative and thrilling. All at once. This is the soundtrack permanently playing in our Editor In Chief’s head when he’s nervously chewing his cigar stub and sweating underneath his green visor on deadline and shouting that there’s gonna be hell to pay if the morning edition ain’t on the streets by 5am.

Clearly a touch of The War of The Worlds if you listen to the descended note at 0:05. Why waste a good motif? Anything that further distracts from the opening title graphics that were evidently composed on a Commodore 64. Lovely stuff. 

6. The Big Match

This is it. The big time. Listen to the original 1970s version of The Big Match theme and it sounds not dissimilar to a 1960s saucy Carry-On film score soundtracking Barbara Windsor cackling about the size of a man’s big juicy pear. But Jubilation is the name of this score and there’s certainly no shortage or joy nor exultation. That thrilling six note intro! The descent into the poignant title theme! It’s the Lightning Seeds – if they were any good.

7. Esso (Tiger theme)

It starts off with what sounds like a harpsichord. Strings and percussion gradually join in then the bass kicks off and IT’S FUNK TIME, BABY. OH HELL YES. GET UP OFFA THAT THING. We’re rock’n’roll hostages of petro-chemical plunder and the roof is on fire. Can you dig it? 

It all builds to a triumphant overture and suddenly we’re at a 24-hour Esso garage where a tanker and a red TR7 are bringing the party. Pickled Onion Monster Much and Quatro for everyone! 

8. ITV 1982 World Cup Theme

The 1982 world cup was held in Spain so ITV decided to call their theme Matador. You can see what they’ve done there. England and Argentina went out in the quarter finals, presumably both knackered by the Falklands War which had just ended the previous month. Italy beat Germany 3:1 in the final game. 

But 1982 was a truly progressive year overall. School caning was made illegal. The Pope visited the UK. Channel 4 was launched. Toto released Africa. And even weirder, Matador was released as a 7” single and reached no.57 in the chart. Back of the net.

9. Golden Rendezvous

A 1977 thriller starring Richard Harris and adapted from an Alistair MacLean novel, Golden Rendezvous is one of Jeff’s most high-profile soundtracks. From the outset, the theme instantly denotes a glamorous high-stakes thriller. Connoisseurs will no doubt note a touch of influence from the legendary Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) theme. The film itself, meanwhile, was “a puddle of a mid-ocean thriller that would make a 12-year-old cringe in embarrassment” according to Variety.

10. McVicar

By the end of the 70s Roger Daltrey’s film career was up and running and he looked set to become a cinematic god, a bona fide hero of the silver screen, like Dennis Waterman or something.

It didn’t quite work out but the soundtrack of this true-crime biopic still astonishes. Our own hero Jeff takes responsibility for the two climactic tracks, Escape parts 1 and 2. This is thrilling and exciting stuff, some of Jeff’s best synth-led theme work of the time. And if you don’t agree, McVicar’ll come round and do you, you slag.

The 40th anniversary of The War of The Worlds UK tour starts on November 30 in Glasgow and travels the UK until December 17. For info, visit the musicals' website

Alex Burrows

A regular contributor to Louder/Classic Rock and The Quietus, Burrows began his career in 1979 with a joke published in Whizzer & Chips. In the early 1990s he self-published a punk/comics zine, then later worked for Cycling Plus, Redline, MXUK, MP3, Computer Music, Metal Hammer and Classic Rock magazines. He co-wrote Anarchy In the UK: The Stories Behind the Anthems of Punk with the late, great Steven Wells and adapted gothic era literature into graphic novels. He also had a joke published in Viz. He currently works in creative solutions, lives in rural Oxfordshire and plays the drums badly.