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.
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