Chiswick Story Behind The Archers Theme Music

Music composed by Arthur Wood to feature in Olympics


Sign up for our free weekly newsletter

Comment on this story on the

The grand-daughter of a Chiswick composer whose most famous work will feature in the Olympics Opening ceremony is trying to gain local recognition for his work.

A maypole dance called ‘Barwick Green’- more familiar as the signature theme tune of the Radio Four series ‘The Archers’ was composed by Arthur Wood ,who lived in Arlington Gardens until his death in 1953. The first episode of ‘The Archers’ was broadcast in 1951.

Two years ago his grand-daughter Jane Talbot tried to persuade English Heritage to place a Blue Plaque on the house, but this request was refused. She has now contacted local councillor John Todd, and MP Mary Macleod to see if anything else can be done to commemorate her grand-father.

The Olympics Opening Ceremony on July 27th is expected to attract a global audience of a billion people. A leaked list of 86 tracks of the official soundtrack for the ceremony includes the theme music from ‘ The Archers’ amongst an eclectic mix, ranging from patriotic music such as Elgar’s ‘Land of Hope and Glory’, to the ‘ Eastenders’ theme music, The Rolling Stones, The Clash, and the BBC ‘Shipping Forecast’.

Jane Talbot said her grandfather would be “ thrilled” to think his work was featured in such an important event.

“He was a self-made man from a family that was not very well off. I’d love for him to have some form of local recognition. English Heritage did say he was not well-known enough as he only composed one famous piece of music”.

Born in 1875 in Heckmondwike, Yorkshire, the son of a tailor, Arthur taught himself the violin, the flute and the piccolo. His father was a violinist in a local amateur orchestra.

After his family moved to Harrowgate in 1882 he was given flute lessons from Arthur Brookes, a member of a local spa orchestra. He left school at the age of twelve and two years later became organist of St Paul's Presbyte rian Church in Harrogate.

By age sixteen he had become the lead flautist, pianist and deputy conductor of the Harrogate Municipal Orchestra Later he moved onto the Bournemouth Municipal Orchestra.

In 1903, at the age of twenty-eight, he progressed to become the director of music at Terry’s Theatre, London. Wood conducted London theatre orchestras for over three decades, including the Apollo, the Shaftesbury, His Majesty’s Theatre, and the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. He died in London on 18 January 1953.

Though self-taught, he was a prolific composer of works, deriving inspiration from his rural background. His first published work in 1902 was the orchestral work, ‘Three Old Dances’ and he also became a staff composer for Boosey and Hawkes, for whom he wrote many orchestral suites and single works.

But his most famous composition was ‘ Barwick Green’ (pronounced 'berrick')and he was “tickled” when it was chosen as the theme of the Radio Four series, according to Jane Talbot.

“ Of course he wasn’t to know it would endure for so long. But it’s a lovely link between Chiswick and the Olympics that many people don’t know about. “

Arlington Gardens in Chiswick

Arthur Wood had five children but apart from his eldest son Edwin who became a musician but died in his thirties, none of them followed him into the music world. One daughter became a writer, another an actress, and Jane Talbor's father Charles became an actuary.

It is not known whether the Berwick maypole still exists.

Although Arthur moved to London in 1903, he did not move into 20, Arlington Gardens until probably 1907. Prior to that he and his wife Ethel lived in Blandford Road but she found the house too dark.

Jane Talbot, who lives in Isleworth, said she and her siblings are hoping that English Heritage and Mary Macleod MP can come up with suggestions for other forms of commemoration. The former family house in Arlington Gardens is now divided into flats.

Anne Flaherty

July 12, 2012

Bookmark and Share