A cat.a.lyst team member recently received a set of audio messages, all musical. Three of those related to musical identities of big brands, all from the world of broadcasting. One was the old Doordarshan news theme, and the other two were the signature tunes of Doordarshan and All India Radio.
There’s an interesting bit of history – and controversy – associated with All India Radio’s signature tune. One version credits Walter Kaufmann, a Czech composer born in Karlsbad in 1907, then a part of Austria-Hungary, with composing the tune. Kaufmann was a director of music at AIR in then Bombay, and the violinist was Mehli Mehta, father of the composer Zubin Mehta. It is said that the instruments used were violin, viola, cello and tanpura.
Other sources credit Thakur Balwant Singh, an actor, singer and composer who moved to Mumbai from Himachal Pradesh. There seems to be no disagreement over the year – 1936. However, there seems to be no information on this subject on the Prasar Bharati website.
The Doordarshan signature tune is credited to Pt Ravi Shankar. One account has it that former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi wanted it to be based on poet Iqbal’s Sare Jahan se Achcha . However, the composer thought it too long and arrived at a shorter variation of the original, which was played for the first time in 1973, by Ustad Ali Ahmad Hussain Khan on the shehnai.
However, there seems to be no information on these subjects on the Prasar Bharati website. Another famous signature tune is the Lilliburlero, that of the BBC World Service. According to the BBC’s website, it was adopted by the broadcaster in 1955 but its origin dates back to the 17th century as a jig of Irish provenance. Its first appearance was in a 1661 anthology where it is set to the words “There was an old man of Waltham Cross”. In 1687, the tune was set to different words, at a time when the Roman Catholic King James II was becoming more and more unpopular. These were satirical verses with the Irish Gaelic-based word Lilliburlero as a refrain, referring to the appointment of General Talbot to the Lord Lieutenancy of Ireland. Later on, William of Orange adopted it as a marching tune for his Protestant troops. Its military association was rekindled in World War II when it was played on the BBC Home Service programme Into Battle in 1943, as the theme tune for its Chinese Service and then for the English network. The current version, arranged by David Arnold, replaces that by BBC music producer David Cox which was in use for 30 years. The website says that Lilliburlero “has always been a controversial tune for the BBC to employ as an anthem”. In 1972, the poet Robert Graves complained about the use of the tune in light of its anti-Catholic connotations. The website notes that “it survived, however”.