5 British TV soundtrack composers you should know.

Okay, I’m not suggesting you choose which British TV shows to watch based on their soundtracks. Except, maybe I am. Today, a list of programs that were highly watchable to begin with, until you take the soundtracks into consideration. Then they become straight-up phenomenal television viewing.

1. Martin Phipps

When I started this post, I had the vague notion that the name “Martin Phipps” was one I had seen a lot. I thought of him primarily for doing the music to the awesome miniseries North & South, based on the Elizabeth Gaskell novel of the same title. You know this program? About the Northern industrial town of Milton (based on Manchester) and cotton mill owner John Thornton (played by Richard Armitage: swoon), who falls in love with Margaret Hale, the genteel clergyman’s daughter whose friendships with and sympathies for the mill workers make things ever so awkward when Thornton falls in love with her?

Here’s your takeaway: It’s a program so good that historically, it’s known for its viewers having “broken” the BBC (SPOILERS at that link, beware) when they crashed its online message boards when it first aired in 2004. Go watch it. And then watch it again, just for the music:

And that’s not even his strongest outing: consider the work he did on the 2008 adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, as well as another of my very favorites, The Virgin Queen, starring Anne-Marie Duff and Tom Hardy (that’s the Mediaeval Baebes singing, but the soundtrack is credited to Phipps). Full disclosure: I actually own that soundtrack and have been known to clean while listening to it full blast. Mr. BritTV and the juniors usually go elsewhere at that point, which is sort of an added benefit (as they all love to track through any piles of dirt I might just have swept up).

And just lately he seems to have garnered a lot of praise for his work on the 2016 War and Peace adaptation soundtrack. I’ve not seen that yet (I know: travesty, especially since James Norton is involved). Check this interview with him out, and then, check out his bio for even more clips of his music from shows like Peaky Blinders.

Let’s just put it this way: You may not always agree with his choices, or love his music, but you always find yourself lost in these great programs–until you come up for air for just a moment and go, “Wait a second; who did the music for this show?” Shockingly often the answer is: Martin Phipps.

2. Anne Dudley

Go listen to the Poldark soundtrack; start with Resurgam if you need a suggestion. Then just go watch Poldark. You’re welcome.

And, AND, she’s responsible for the Jeeves and Wooster theme music? OH MY GOD. Perhaps the best theme music ever. This may be the coolest thing I learn all week. I don’t know who else will care but me, but still. Hey, did you know the woman who did the awesome music for Poldark also did the theme for Jeeves and Wooster??!?!?*

3. Bear McCreary

First off, full props to Bear’s parents for being gutsy enough to come up with that name. It’s catchy!

Secondly, full props to Mr. McCreary himself, for producing the Outlander soundtrack. Based on the historical/fantasy novels by Diana Gabaldon, Outlander is the story of the eighteenth-century Highland lad Jamie (Sam Heughan) and the 1940s-era woman (Caitriona Balfe) who travels through time (thanks to some Druidic standing stones) to fall in love with him (even though she’s already married; inconvenient, that, and you’d better believe both love affairs impact the story). It doesn’t sound like it makes much sense, but don’t worry. The show’s known for great action, romance, plenty of sexy bits, and, of course, the music.

And here’s your trivia for this soundtrack: the woman singing on that song is Raya Yarbrough, who is married to Bear McCreary. All these talented people churning out great work AND marrying each other. It’s a bit sickening to us mere mortals, actually.

McCreary also did the music for Black Sails, which I’ve not yet seen, but I REALLY WANT TO.

4. Samuel Sim

The latest round of Jane Austen adaptations were particularly noteworthy for their soundtracks, and the soundtrack for the 2009 adaptation of Emma (starring Romola Garai and Jonny Lee Miller), by Samuel Sim, was no exception. I LOVE this soundtrack, particularly the piece below, which makes me wish I could attend a Regency dance, or any kind of dance, frankly, although then I’d have to pack myself into a gown and learn a Regency dance or two. Still, you take my point.

5. John Lunn

Wow, file this one under the “Who knew?” category. Another of my very favorite programs, based on the music alone, is the 2005 adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s Under the Greenwood Tree (there’s some strange background noises in the middle of that clip, but it’s worth listening to for the song that Dick Dewey and the villagers sing to Fancy Day at the end). And the whole program is fun: Fancy Day, as played by Keeley Hawes, returns to her small town after being educated (and becoming a “fine lady”), to become the love interest of three very different men: the older but wealthy Farmer Shinar, the educated and worldly but stodgy clergyman Parson Maybold, and the young man her age, a carrier (basically: a delivery man), who has ambition and a small business but not a lot of wealth. Who will she pick? Watch and find out, and enjoy the music as you do so.

Turns out, if you want to watch everything John Lunn has scored, you’re going to be very, very busy. In the best possible way, of course: watching a ton of British television. He also did the music for a little program you may have heard of: Downton Abbey.

Now: Go forth and listen (while you watch)!

*Incidentally, Who Played that Theme? I am going to lose WAY too much time at this YouTube channel.

1 Comment

  1. Hi again! I absolutely love all the composers and soundtracks you listed. Here’s a fun fact about Martin Phipps: He’s the godson of Benjamin Britten, a fairly well known 20th century British classical composer,conductor, and pianist. Both Pride and Prejudices(especially the 2005 one by Dario Marianelli), Miss Austen Regrets by Jennie Muskett, and The Paradise composed by Maurizio Malignini are also lovely, moving soundtracks.

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