Monday, 28 April 2008

Vivian Ellis: Coronation Scot

Many years ago – before the age of the CD – I remember hearing a piece of music on the radio. It was what is called ‘light’ music. Now I did not know what it was, but my girlfriend at the time told me it was the theme music to ‘Paul Temple’. Alas and alack the radio presenter did not mention the title at the end of the piece and went straight onto the next number.
In those prehistoric times before the internet, it was harder to get to the bottom of a mystery like this. Nowadays just type in ‘paul temple theme’ and you get an instant answer. Click on Amazon a few times and the CD is winging its way to your house. Job done!
But ‘then’ was different. Hat and coat were donned and a walk into York town centre to the famous Banks' Music. In those days the record shop was on the opposite side of Stonegate to the ‘sheet music’ business. At least in the record shop one did not have to run the gauntlet of the formidable and redoubtable ‘Ma Banks’ – the shop owner.
A brief conversation with the record buyer elicited the information I needed – it was a piece of music called Coronation Scot by Vivian Ellis. Unfortunately there was only one recording of this piece and that was on an obscure and out of stock cassette –which I promptly ordered. After about six weeks it arrived and I was introduced to a piece of music that has remained a favourite of mine ever since.

The story of the music is straightforward. Vivian Ellis (1903-1996) composed the work on board a train – on a journey from London Paddington to Taunton. It was 1938. The obvious title would have been ‘Cornish Riviera Express’ – however, as Ernest Tomlinson has pointed out, this does not exactly ‘trip off the tongue’! So Ellis chose ‘Coronation Scot’ – which was a prestigious train running at that time from London Euston to Glasgow Central. This service had been inaugurated during the previous year, 1937.
The work was recorded by Sidney Torch and the Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra and according to Ellis “did nothing” until it was used as the theme tune to the BBC Radio series 'Paul Temple'.

I am not old enough to remember seeing the radio series – however I find that this is one of the most evocative pieces of music in the catalogue. To my ear it sums up an age of speed and luxury. It is not hard for my minds eye to picture a steam-hauled train winding its way over Shap or though the Lune Valley.
It represents a time when trains were comfortable and the toilets did not smell; when you were able to make connections at junctions and there was no 'vibrant 'yoof' culture' graffiti on every available line side wall and piece of equipment.

There are some six versions of Coronation Scot currently available on CD – both new and historical recordings.


Anonymous said...

I would correct you on one point, without wishing to offend, and that is that Paul Temple was a radio series and not TV. Otherwise, thank you for taking the trouble to put together such an interesting website.

John France said...

Thanks for that - it is updated! I wish I had heard them...

Robert Carnegie said...

In fact according to Wikipedia there was a Paul Temple TV series for a while, and films - but it had been more successful on radio. Digital BBC 7 has played some of the archive series recordings and there have been a couple of recent remakes, and CD releases. Paul Temple is a fictional crime author based in London who helps police murder inquiries, can you believe it? He usually gets shot at and his car blown up, the villain has a secret identity like "Alex" or "Jonathan" and a secret gang of conspirators willing and otherwise, and Temple invites all the suspects at the end (half of whom have separate schemes of their own) to a cocktail party for his revelations. In at least one case this includes that the secret identity business was laid on specifically to distract Temple from the real criminal activity.

I turned up here because someone wants to know where else they heard "Coronation Scot" in a broadcast - I think it does for anything with trains, although when Paul Temple was using it it must have been exclusively his, at least in Britain. Thank you for writing about your own experience. Robert Carnegie

Enrico said...

Just as a semi-fascinating fact: the original 78rpm record of "Coronationn Scot" had, on the other side, "The Horse Guards - Whitehall" by Eric Coates, which was used as the theme tune to "Down Your Way" on the radio for as many years as the programme ran. So the lucky punter got not one, but two BBC themes on one 10-inch disc. Could it possibly get any better? :-)

olaf675 said...

You also might enjoy the footage of 'A Video of the 1937 Coronation Scot Record Run by 6220 Coronation' on YouTube -- with various re-recordings, the theme is available on the collection The Great British Experience with other BBC radio themes.

You also might be interested in the following 'Paul Temple' web pages is a high resolution image of the 'Coronation Scot' train