The music to ‘Inspector Morse’ revealed as the nation’s number one TV theme

30 August 2021, 18:57 | Updated: 31 August 2021, 08:54

Classic FM's TV Music Countdown No. 1
Classic FM's TV Music Countdown No. 1. Picture: Alamy

By Kyle Macdonald

The dark, hypnotic theme tune to Inspector Morse, composed by Australian-born Barrington Pheloung, has been voted the nation’s favourite TV theme, 34 years after its debut on screens.

The UK’s favourite television music has been revealed in the Classic FM TV Music Countdown, in partnership with Radio Times. The chart is the result of tens of thousands of votes by the station’s listeners, readers of Radio Times magazine and digital audiences.

The chart-topping music, by Barrington Pheloung, employed a Morse code motif for the letters that spelt the name M.O.R.S.E. leaving an indelible mark in the public’s mind. The crime drama had a strong music theme throughout with John Thaw’s brilliant portrayal of the world-weary, classical music-loving detective.

Explore the full chart for the Classic FM TV Music Countdown 2021

Inspector Morse was on our screens between 1987 and 2000, it is still repeated on TV now and is a popular box set on streaming services. Inspector Morse spin-off Lewis, also composed by Pheloung, was voted the 20th most popular TV theme.

Inspector Morse
Inspector Morse. Picture: Alamy

Barrington Pheloung died in 2019. Heather Pheloung, his widow, said: “Thank you to everyone who voted for the Inspector Morse theme and Lewis theme. I am sure Barry would have been overjoyed and honoured that the Inspector Morse theme has been chosen as the UK’s No.1 favourite TV theme of all time. It is such incredible news.

“I know he would have been quite humbled to be receiving this accolade given the many great, iconic TV themes that have been written for UK television. For Barry, writing music was a way he could bring joy and love to people, his music came from the heart, and composing music and bringing it to life with his colleagues and friends was his passion.”

“The huge success of Inspector Morse, followed by Lewis and then Endeavour, allowed him to do what he loved in life, which he was always very grateful for. Barry regularly listened to Classic FM, and for him to receive the support and love from the Classic FM listeners is very special, and it makes me think of Barry with a lovely, beaming smile on his face. Barry’s children and I are so very proud of him.”

The theme to the series The Onedin Line, Khachaturian’s Adagio of Spartacus and Phrygia, was voted as the nation’s second favourite theme. John Lunn’s Downton Abbey, Ramin Djawadi’s Game of Thrones and Wolf Hall, by Classic FM’s Composer in Residence Debbie Wiseman, were the TV themes to round out the nation’s top five favourites.

Listen again to the top 30 of our Classic FM TV Music Countdown 2021, on Global Player

Classic FM’s TV Music Countdown also revealed the popularity of classical themes in the streaming era. Hans Zimmer’s music to Netflix’s The Crown was placed at 24, Kris Bowers’ music to 2020’s hit series Bridgerton was voted into place 46.

Classic FM presenter Alexander Armstrong said: “TV themes carry the indelible essence of the programmes in their very fibres. Just try listening to Barrington Pheloung’s Inspector Morse theme and not picturing John Thaw! Whenever I feature music composed for the screen during my Classic FM programme I get a great response from listeners, because it evokes such strong memories.”

“When TV music is at its best, it’s nothing short of majestic, and this list of the nation’s favourite TV themes is packed full of treasures.”

Classic FM TV Music Countdown in partnership with Radio Times top 20:

1. Inspector Morse, by Barrington Pheloung
2. The Onedin Line (Adagio of Spartacus and Phrygia), by Aram Khachaturian
3. Downton Abbey, by John Lunn
4. Game of Thrones, by Ramin Djawadi
5. Wolf Hall, by Debbie Wiseman
6. Band of Brothers, by Michael Kamen
7. Van der Valk (Eye Level), by Jan Stoeckart
8. Brideshead Revisited, by Geoffrey Burgon
9. Pride and Prejudice, by Carl Davis
10. Poldark, by Anne Dudley
11. Blue Planet, by Hans Zimmer
12. Harry's Game, by Clannad Clannad
13. Doctor Who, by Ron Grainer
14. The Lone Ranger (William Tell Overture), by Gioachino Rossini
15. Poirot, by Christopher Gunning
16. Peaky Blinders, by Nick Cave
17. The Vicar of Dibley, by Howard Goodall
18. Miss Marple, by Ken Howard
19. Thunderbirds, by Barry Gray
20. Lewis, by Barrington Pheloung