10 of the Best Title Sequences

June 5, 2020

A title sequence is all important – it is the book cover or can label. If various elements come together well it can inform, entertain and hopefully (in terms of those all important viewing figures) intrigue. There has to be a good match between the visuals and theme tune to create the best result but although a series can’t survive on a good title sequence alone it certainly helps in creating longevity. Here are 10 title sequences that achieved these goals with aplomb.

THE AVENGERS (1967)

After switching to shooting on film and securing a sale on the ABC network in the U.S. the requirement came for further episodes to be produced in colour after the American networks started pushed colour programming from Autumn 1965. So out went the black & white stills of series 4 and in came a specially shot, stylish and eloquent live action sequence that had Britishness stamped all over it. It is so etched in the memory of anyone remotely interested in 1960s television that it doesn’t need to be described. It superbly summed up the nature of the show, its qualities and quirkiness, even if it could be argued that the colour episodes themselves didn’t always quite live up to the previous monochrome instalments. Why there are two separate parts to the sequence – the champagne opening and then the more traditional title sequence. Was it simply a case of having shot too much good footage or was it by design from the start? Either way, we have titles that are just plain cool and quite rightly regarded as a hallmark of classic television. 

HAWAII FIVE-O (1968)

The Banzai Pipeline in Hawaii is home to some of the heaviest and largest surfing waves, so what better way to begin a sequence set in this Pacific island state? Accompanied at the start purely by percussion, the shot of this incredible wave has the main title caption zooming towards the viewer. What follows is then a mix of shots emphasising the island location – sea, beaches, sunsets, mixed with what man has made of it – adding buildings, clock towers, boats and aircraft parts – the latter nicely distorted via a fish-eye lens. To further nail down the location we have shots of native inhabitants and a hula dancer all accompanied by that strong brass theme tune . Of course it is probably Jack Lord’s credit shot which is remembered by most as a very quick zoom into a high rise balcony. The fact it is actually a rather horrible jump cut doesn’t really matter, it still works. Amazingly some 12 years later in 1980, most of this original sequence remained intact including the same footage for Lord’s credit, only the changing additional cast members forced new shots to be inserted but retaining the freeze frame technique. Many elements of these titles became iconic and therefore it’s no surprise the new series from 2010 retained a fair few of these including the wave, balcony zoom, jet engine, hula dancer, the Punch Bowl statue and the ending of the POV style police light moving rapidly through the streets just like the original. 

THE PERSUADERS! (1971)

Legend has it that as Lew Grade promised top billing to both Tony Curtis and Roger Moore the main titles were designed to split billing equally down the middle. In reality, this is not completely possible but trying to achieve that certainly made for a very good sequence perfectly in tune with the early 70s graphics style. This was still an era where the multi image possibilities that could be created via film optical printing still outweighed what was achievable electronically with video. Incorporating some shots from early episodes filmed such as Overture and Powerswitch, including some unused portions from the latter, the sequence perfectly sets up the playboy jet-set lifestyle of our two heroes. Interestingly a shot of burning money used to light a cigar from To The Death Baby was later replaced – I suppose one can go too far! John Barry’s theme provides the perfect accompaniment with the classic sound being achieved by overdubbing four instruments all playing the melody –  a Cimbalom, Kantele, Mandolin and Mandola. It was many years before I finally caught up with the first episode where it’s all set up, so the snippets seen in the titles left this viewer with one question. Which car would win the race? As it turns out, going purely by specification, the featured Aston Marton DBS (badged up as a V8 but actually six cylinder) produced 282bhp, whereas the Dino 246 only 192bhp. However, the size and weight differences between the vehicles meant incredibly they both did 0-60 mph in 7.1 seconds and had top speeds within 5mph of each other, so what a superb but unlikely match – rather like Sinclair and Wilde!

THE PROFESSIONALS (1978)

Despite an impressive piece of stunt driving hammering a large Rolls Royce into a corner, that is not enough to bring the series 1 sequence up to iconic status, no… I refer of course to the 2nd incarnation. Laurie Johnson’s theme was already there – a truly masterful creation of driving power that somehow never tires even with multiple successive plays. To go with that first resonating brass and bass note they came up with a superb visual of a Ford Granada smashing through plate glass in slow motion. Then we have a quick montage of shots of the three leads, the two younger operatives in quick pursuit of something. From the visually interesting reflection of a building and a hi-tech car phone we get a grid pattern of 12 silhouettes which eventually boils down to three – Cowley, Doyle and Bodie. Then we have individual focus for the mains actors credits, including more tech such as the computer bank of Honeywell in Brentford for Jackson and a mixture of training shots and urban scenes for Shaw and Collins. Rotherhithe tunnel and Trinity Square finish off the sequence that has become more than the sum of its parts. It contains nothing particularly clever or complicated but it is well directed and edited which counts for a lot.

THE ROCKFORD FILES (1973)

As with many USA series of this era, each episode was designed with a 30 second teaser of what’s coming up that preceded the opening titles. Thankfully the BBC physically cut these from their 35mm prints when airing the series so for UK viewers it always started with the phone ringing. Immediately we knew we were USA bound with that long ring tone and then the answerphone switches on and following Jim’s outgoing message we are usually treated to a relatively humorous call. This sets up the tone of the series, it could be hard hitting but with a lighter side as well. Then it is still images with rostrum camera moves that show us facets of Jim Rockford’s life… where he lives, where he goes, what he does. He has to deal with the police, follow people, wait for information and occasionally feed himself. At the end he’s with his dad and enjoying some fishing and a quick group of shots emphasises the location once again. It’s a classic sequence that has life despite there being no fluid motion and Mike Post’s theme is what lifts it further although it wouldn’t be until part way through the 2nd season before the music was completely there. Later seasons would end up adding and replacing certain shots but these would never have the same photographic quality of the ones around it and consequently they stuck out like a sore thumb. Of course the titles also showcased a really cool feature of the series… that Pontiac Firebird!

THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN (1974)

If you were interested in science fiction and the right age when this came along then the titles for this series would fire the imagination like no other. Utilising real footage of a NASA lifting body test flight that took place on 10th May 1967 which ended in disaster, Lee Majors playing Steve Austin took the place of test pilot Bruce Peterson who himself nearly died. The dialogue spoken by Majors “I’ve got a blow-out, damper three”, “Pitch is out I can’t hold altitude”, “”Flight Com! I can’t hold it!” is virtually exactly that spoken by Bruce during the fateful test. That, coupled with real footage and shots of Majors in an actual HL-10 cockpit create what is already an engaging sequence but what followed was even more memorable. A clever layering of hi-tech looking schematic animation with cybernetic mock-ups and a superb voice-over all underpinned with a steadily building score, the latter two elements really only coming together from the 2nd season onwards. Details such as the text which appeared alongside the animation were probably unreadable on the original broadcasts due to clarity and duration but can now be seen and do make sense – Bionic Neuro-Link Forearm/ Upper Arm Assembly. Power Supply: Atomic type. 1550 Watts continuous duty. Universal’s title designer Jack Cole charged with the re-telling of the backstory presented in the previous TV movies that preceded the series in just 90 seconds really nailed it here.

THE PRISONER (1967)

This series has reached iconic status and then some not least due to the driving force behind it that was Patrick McGoohan. The titles give us a complete narrative from the resignation of an agent and his subsequent gassing, kidnapping and awakening in a strange village. Almost every facet of this sequence has become iconic –  a clap of thunder becomes a jet engine which segues into Ron Grainer’s classic theme. The soundtrack is as much a masterpiece as the visuals with effects alongside the music adding depth and punctuation which further underpin the superbly directed and edited sequence. Freeze frame at virtually any point throughout the titles (which thanks to modern technology is easily achieved) and you are presented with no end of classic imagery. The Lotus 7 driving beside Big Ben or down The Mall, a figure silhouetted in a long underground corridor, a fist slamming against a desk, an agent’s photograph crossed out, an endless row of filing cabinets, gas through a keyhole – the list goes on. It boldly says this is swinging 60s Britain with a large dose of bizarre and a dash of the cold war thrown in. 

STARSKY AND HUTCH (1975)

To a certain extent this series reinvented the American cop show and gave us a couple of lead characters that came across as real friends outside of just working together. Also, they had flair and style and at least one of them had a rather classic looking and sounding car (even if it was just added effects) that was like no other detective’s vehicle before it. The title sequence was really just a bunch of scenes mostly lifted from the original TV movie pilot but it worked as they had a lot of memorable ones to choose from. Driving down a paper strewn alley, emerging drenched from a swimming pool, the charging up and down stairways both inside and out, Hutch’s jump onto the roof of his car and so on. Lalo Schifrin’s theme for season 1 is good (particularly the end credits recording) and the grittiest of the three theme tunes this series had but the switch to Tom Scott’s theme for the 2nd season somehow seemed more appropriate. That coupled with some tweaks to the visual edit really focused the pace of the sequence. Gone was the rather long shot of burning rubber that the main title caption was over in the first season, this was now over the more iconic running over the bonnet (sorry hood!) of the Ford Torino to tackle the bad guys in the limo. Also new scenes from 1st season episodes added first a touch of glamour, humour and then pure cool (walking alongside the Torino) before we return to most of the S1 shots. This time though the stairs sequence seems to work even better and David Soul’s landing on the car roof is now perfectly timed with the music. The 2nd season titles end with Starsky falling against Hutch due to an explosion but because the shot was split into two in the source episode there’s an annoying jump cut. However, this reworking alongside the new music boosts its energy to the point of being a classic set of titles. Unfortunately further tweaking of both sound and vision during the 3rd and 4th seasons would dissolve any ground gained and unfortunately went hand in hand with the general decline of the series itself. BBC1 viewers were treated to a hilarious parody of the title sequence on Christmas Day 1977 courtesy of Morecambe and Wise.

THE TOMORROW PEOPLE (1973)

Whether the creator Roger Price thought of it this way or not, this was Thames Television’s answer to Doctor Who, also sharing the composer Dudley Simpson responsible for some great incidental music for the BBC series during the 1970s. Dudley’s main theme here is simple, effective and somewhat haunting. The same words can be used to describe the on screen visuals that were married to it primarily overseen by director Paul Bernard. A sequence of monochrome images zooming towards the viewer including a fetus, galaxy, the main characters faces surround by certain geometric shapes and the episode credits. These were still shots with one exception – the hand. The hand opening progressively (through a series of stills) as it came towards you was really quite eerie and the end result was certainly thought provoking. The intrigue box was more than ticked with this one.

UFO (1970)

Taking some 17 months to reach our screens from the first footage shot to the series’ debut in the ATV region in September 1970, what followed the familiar Century 21 logo heralded a new era for Gerry Anderson. I wonder what the original reaction was to the first shot of a green skinned face having a rather terrifying hard plastic shell being removed from the eyeball, accompanied by… silence? Only with further viewing of the episodes themselves would those details be explained. Then in comes Barry Gray’s score featuring a militaristic brass rhythm with contemporary organ and guitar, the teleprinter fires up and the pace builds from here on. Taking shots from the early episodes, including some alternate takes (such as the skydiver crew) every part of S.H.A.D.O. is showcased. The headquarters incorporated within a real film studio and Straker’s futuristic looking car coupled with the year flashed on screen tells us this is not now but the near future. The premiere episode directed by Gerry himself provides most of the glamour shots in the sequence interspersed with worried looking faces and the defence capabilities of the organisation. Whether it’s land, sea, air or in space they have it covered. Derek Meddings and his team had proven with Doppelgänger that the quality of their model work could easily handle the juxtaposition with live action and the result is an impressive montage that really does look expensive… and of course it was.

Jonathan Wood, Restoration Colourist



Comments:32

  1. Paul Faulder Reply
    20/06/05

    Very entertaining feature and great to still be learning something new about these series even after all these years.

  2. Pete Hingle Reply
    20/06/05

    Great but no, Thunderbirds, Joe 90, Ace Of Wands, Stingray?

  3. Steve Barnett Reply
    20/06/05

    Interesting feature and great choices! I seem to remember though that the Dino in “The Persuaders” is the 206 rather than the 246. The smaller engined model was produced to avoid Italian taxes on larger engine sizes but was never exported to the UK. I’ll get me anorak……

  4. Dave Manning Reply
    20/06/05

    I liked this very much.
    I hope Nebula 75 becomes as popular as Thunderbirds etc.

  5. Chris Harrup Reply
    20/06/05

    Absolutely iconic shows from the golden age of television, I wish they made them like this now. I hope that one day Network will give The Avengers a Blu ray release to replace the sub standard one that currently exists from you know who !

  6. Peter Venables Reply
    20/06/05

    I think the title sequences for many shows stay with you longer. I have noticed that some modern series go straight into the dialogue showing titles as the programme progresses. I personally enjoyed the catchy theme tunes that led you into the programme. Just one good example was Van Der Valk! In the recent version they chose to omit that rousing tune and I believe that was a mistake.

  7. SHAUN ROBBINS Reply
    20/06/05

    Excellent article… I couldn’t agree more with your choices. UFO, The Professionals, Avengers, Hawaii Five O, Rockford Files, Starsky & Hutch, Persuaders, etc. all have that WOW! factor… If you had a top 20, I think I would include Gerry Anderson’s Thunderbirds, Mission Impossible (original series) & Stingray… standby for action! … Plus, Hill Street Blues & Taxi due to their opening theme tunes being simply beautiful/unforgettable!
    Keep up the great work Network and please keep those amazing quality TV Blu-rays coming… Your Avengers blu-ray, for me personally was one of the highlight releases of the year… stunningly presented and remastered. Please surprise us with similar future items…

  8. Andrew Denyer Reply
    20/06/05

    Some great choices there – The Persuaders being one of my personal favourites ever since I first saw it as a young child! But I would also include Space 1999 Series 1. Oh, and Thunderbirds. Or, indeed, any of the classic Gerry Anderson series…!

  9. Tim Munton Reply
    20/06/05

    Great article. Yes, the 1st Avengers colour series does have a better title sequence than the previous Rigg b&w series but imo the actual episodes are more than just a bit less good:
    The episodes of that 1st colour series are rarely better than sort of ok – & I’m at something of a loss as to why they’re often seen as the peak of the series (though maybe that’s the effect of that sublime title sequence!).
    Whereas (imo) the final b&w series is several levels better and is quite excellent in every way.

    I’ll go further and say that even the episodes of series 1 to 3 are generally – though not always – a lot better than the first colour one, though nowhere near as good as the episodes of the final b&w one.

    The final series, imo, is also generally better than the first colour one in terms of story & content – despite that as a character I find Tara King far worse in every way than Mrs Peel. Whereas as characters I’d rate Peel & Gale as equally excellent.

    • Ally Macinnes Reply
      20/06/05

      Tim, I agree with much of your comment. The b&w Emma Peel series is undoubtedly the best in the entire run of The Avengers. There are definitely several episodes of the Tara King series that are better than the Emma Peel colour episodes but John Steed and Emma Peel as a partnership can not be bettered.

  10. Ally Macinnes Reply
    20/06/05

    Some good choices here. One not in this list but for me one of the all time great title sequences is The Equalizer, Stewart Copeland’s brilliant eerie theme and the visuals match up perfectly to tell viewers in a minute what the show and the title character are about.

  11. George Fergus Reply
    20/06/05

    These days I am reminded of the opening sequence to Survivors (1975-1977).

    • Ally Macinnes Reply
      20/06/05

      George, yes Survivors has a memorable and chilling title sequence that tells us efficiently what we need to know so that’s there’s no need for exposition in the episodes themselves regarding the cause of “the death”. Until recently I had only watched the first series but I watched every episode in the last couple of months.

    • Tim Munton Reply
      20/06/05

      Yes, the 1970s Survivors had an excellent opening sequence & is a fantastic series to boot.
      I saw some of it back in the 70s & then all 3 series on DVD, then a few years ago watched the DVDs a 2nd time although stalled part way through series 3 (which is very good but not as good as series 1 & 2 imo).
      Have been meaning to resume & finish off series 3 & was thinking in about Jan/Feb this year to do that soon. Then the pandemic arrived and I haven’t so far (though still may do ie. I haven’t ruled it out) – as it feels a bit like it may be tempting fate to watch it at this time!
      Even though it will undoubtedly add great resonance & another layer or two to the viewing experience.
      Stat safe & good health to you George Fergus & everyone.

  12. Philip Johnson Reply
    20/06/05

    Journey To The Unknown. Everyone who watched the show remembers it: entering an amusement park at night, lit up but completely deserted, and abruptly riding the roller coaster and zooming into the show’s title. And in the episode itself, there was the ominous touch of beginning and ending on a freeze-framed screen in negative.

    • Scott Anderson Reply
      20/06/05

      Phil thank you for this, that creepy whistling theme has been in my head for decades and could not pin it down. I had thought it may have been from one of the dozens of spaghetti westerns I watched in the 70s.
      I would have been about 8 or 9 years old when this show was on originally but I can’t recall an episode. Could have been on around my bed time so I heard the theme but was off to kip soon after 🙁

  13. Scott Anderson Reply
    20/06/05

    US shows in the 70s had the funkiest theme tunes ever. The Streets of San Fransisco being one of the best. But the most exciting badass intro was the short lived Dan August starring a young Burt Reynolds. Reynolds can be seen performing pretty gruelling stunts in the opening montage, though the show rarely lived up to the promise of the opening credits. Being a “Quinn Martin production” it was given the voice over man treatment with the guest stars announced in a serious tone. This type of intro was ripe for parody and indeed received that by the tv comedy forerunner of The Naked Gun, Police Squad in color, to hilarious effect. They used a running gag over the end credits – in these kind of shows it was often a still frame of the cast laughing at some lame joke – Police Squad would end in a similar fashion except the cast would hold the pose appearing unable to physically move. Meanwhile someone, not part of the usual team, could move freely e.g. a suspect able to escape custody by simply walking out of the station.

  14. David G Reply
    20/06/05

    I’m surprised that everyone appears to have forgotten about the uniquely stylish titles by Chambers & Partners for Department S. I wouldn’t argue with the inclusion of Reza S Badiyi’s Hawaii Five-0 titles, however; often copied and still the benchmark. I gather that the classic approach to the balcony was originally intended to be a smooth approach, but it was shot on a very windy day and the helicopter was all over the place because of it. The only way to make use of the shot was speed it up and have a hard cut to Jack Lord spinning around. An accident created a classic moment.

  15. Delmo Walters Jr. Reply
    20/06/05

    Really, no love for the color Saint intro, utilizing color silhouettes of Roger Moore in action against that great theme?

  16. Adrian Bird Reply
    20/06/05

    Superb List, However Thunderbird’s Should have been included.

  17. Don Hilliard Reply
    20/06/05

    The “champagne” opening for the color Avengers was definitely planned; a similar pre-titles sequence had been added for US broadcast of the previous B&W series (less elaborate, a bit surreal, and with a voice-over quickly introducing Steed and Peel and stating the premise of the show – but ending with a similar clink of glasses.)

    The final series of THE SWEENEY had a title sequence that veers from the clever to the ridiculous: while filming all of the action through a triangle of mirrors gave a memorable visual effect, it apparently cost so much that Euston Films couldn’t afford the additional optical work to freeze-frame the actors for their credits – each of them jumps out of a car and then pauses for several seconds, kipper ties flapping in the breeze! (Another one that varies slightly – Garfield Morgan left the show somewhere in the middle of the series, so his appearance and credit were removed and replaced by additional footage of the crim they’re chasing.)

  18. Phil Wickwar Reply
    20/06/06

    Fantastic series, all.
    My personal favourite is UFO. Brilliant editing for a title sequence so perfectly in tune with the music and all before the digital age.
    Wonderful theme tunes that set the pace for the episodes contained therein.
    Legends of their era

  19. Mark Foster Reply
    20/06/06

    Terrific choices Mr. Wood. (Even though Thunderbirds is a surprise omission in the list!)The Prisoner is I think the GREATEST opening title sequence to the GREATEST TV Series ever IMHO (I am a fan so I am biased) because it’s so brilliant in it’s visual style, conception, cinematography and direction, just as the series itself. Patrick McGoohan had a superb director in Don Chaffey who he worked with before and set the basic look of the series by directing the key episodes filmed in location in Portmerion.

  20. Richard Tyjas Reply
    20/06/06

    Excellent article. I agree with your choices, but would have added Department S. Telling the story of an elite Interpol investigation team, they covered the unusual cases. Made in 1968, and first shown in 1969, the opening sequence was very classy for the time, even when shown a black and white TV. Worth watching again, as Networks DVD release shows the excellent film quality.

  21. Steve Sullivan Reply
    20/06/06

    Wholeheartedly agree with most of the comments about these wonderful title sequences. I personally preferred the Thorson series Avengers opening titles with gorgeous Linda skipping over the famous bridge in Pinewood’s grounds – a good example of a perfect marriage between visuals and music with the all-important split-second accurate editing.

    When is Network going to team up again with Studio Canal and release The New Avengers in blu ray? Now there is a series ripe for a clean-up. In the late 70s/early 80s I used to have my hair styled at Harrods in their basement salon just like Gambit’s hair do, and even bought my first ever tailor made suit – a navy blue pin stripe, again as a copy cat! Also loved the Jags that Steed and Gambit drove. The XJ-S remains my favourite British car of the 70s. What has happened to our great British car industry?!

    When is someone going to mention TV commercials? The UK has produced some gems in the past. Could we have a blu ray full of these? Network gave us a taste of these in its Cybernaughts Trilogy release in BD which was fantastic. Some commercials, shot on 35mm film by top directors such as Joseph Losey, include Dairy Box (a lazy Sunday afternoon in the garden) and Rose’s lime cordial which was beautifully drenched in a green filter. Although not in the same league, I also remember a Spangles advert (“We discovered something new, fizzy cola just for you . Suck a fizzy drink spangle, get happy!”). OK, not in the same league as the earlier two but it did have a certain magic about. It can’t have been bad if I can remember the words from boyhood!

    • Tim Munton Reply
      20/06/07

      It’d also be nice to see the Bertie Bassett (Bassett’s Liquorice Allsorts) 80s – or maybe 90s – ads where Twilight Zone type situations shaped the narrative of the ads – “You too might go Bertie!” (or similar) – in several scenarios.
      Plus they used the Twilight Zone theme for this!

  22. Stephen Hardy Reply
    20/06/06

    Good selection, but no list of brilliant theme tunes can omit Randall and Hopkirk – one of most evocative and eerie opening title themes of all time – along with Journey to the Unknown, which someone else has also rightly mentioned! In fact, nearly all the ITC shows had great memorable themes – such as Department S and The Adventurer – also don’t forget Tony Christie’s “Avenues and Alleyways” used to brilliant effect in the title credits of The Protectors, even if the overall quality of some of these shows was somewhat variable.

  23. Patrick Kennedy Reply
    20/06/06

    Like 5-0, Mission: Impossible and Mannix also had cool opening credits and were fronted by tall 1960s white guys. But don’t get me started on the legendary Barbara Bain!

    • Don Hilliard Reply
      20/06/12

      Not surprisingly, M:I and MANNIX had the same creator/producer, Bruce Geller. Definitely had a flair for title sequences.

  24. Richard Tyjas Reply
    20/06/09

    Excellent article and I like the choice of shows. I would also include Department S, from 1968. The stylish titles, along with one of the best TV themes, make it a great series from that era. Excellent scripts and a stylish production worthy of a feature film, this series is still watchable after fifty years.

  25. Spike Knowles Reply
    20/06/10

    Great choice to which I’d add the original howl-around visuals coupled with Delia Derbyshire’s realisation of Ron Grainer’s theme that resulted in Doctor Who. And just after that, across the pond, The Outer Limits was similarly strange and intriguing.

  26. Mark Reply
    20/06/10

    Excellent article.
    I loved your Avengers Cybernauts release last year. Hoping for more at some point.
    As a big fan of The Avengers series four black & white episodes which I go back to every year, I would love to see a colourised version of just one episode. I know this was tested in the 90’s but must have proved too costly to colourise the entire series. Don’t get me wrong I love the lighting and cinematography on these but always find it a shame that these episodes rarely get shown now because they are black & white and they are arguably the best of the lot.
    Anyway keep up the amazing work.

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