It’s been a winter weekend staple since it first aired in 1978, and in terms of music, the BBC ski sunday remained very “on track”, true to its original theme to this day. But what is it and who wrote it?
ski sunday originated from the BBC’s coverage of the 1976 Winter Olympics. With a nation’s appetite for such seasonal thrills well and truly honed, a weekly Sunday afternoon show was devised, and it became a staple of the society’s TV schedule.
As was the case with many popular shows of the time, including All creatures big and small, Grandstand and its cover Wimbledonthe BBC turned to existing music libraries to ski sunday theme melody. He stopped on a piece entitled “Pop Looks Bach”, a contemporary song for strings, hammond organ, brass and percussion by Sam Fonteyn. The title refers to the fact that it is (very) loosely based on J.S. BachToccata and Fugue in D minor from BWV 565 – a piece generally more associated with vampires and phantoms of the opera than alpine skiers.
Fonteyn (1925-91) was an English composer-pianist, born in Birmingham, and he wrote almost exclusively for music libraries. In this case, the piece was written in 1970 for the Boosey & Hawkes Library. His parts have appeared on a variety of shows over the years, including popular animated shows like Sponge Bob SquarePants. In the UK, his other most famous track is “School’s Out”, which served as the theme for the 1968 comedy series, Please sir!.
Like all library music, “Pop Looks Bach” is available to everyone and has appeared on other shows, including the American TV show. The world of tomorrow.
But what is it about this melody that makes it so perfect for ski sunday? The tune has great momentum and the downward movement of strings and organ, punctuated by timpani, brass and flute, really makes it feel like we’re running downhill or traversing a slalom.
The piece remained the theme of the show from day one and was also the main music for BBC Winter Olympics coverage until 2006. The current rendition remains close to the original, although only with 21st century rhythms in the background.