Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

Let's get one thing straight - the test card is cool.

If it weren't so, then we wouldn't have test card-related web sites, fan clubs, YouTube channels and about a dozen CDs of its music commercially available.

Because you know what? Back in the day, test card music actually was amazing. Sure it gets dismissed out of hand a lot now, but if we're honest, not by anyone who actually hung around long enough to listen to it.

I mean just because the image that it accompanied was repetitive and unchanging, hardly means that the music was too.

In fact, the BBC used to go to a lot of trouble over producing this stuff. They didn't just stick any old record on to play with it, apart from anything else because they weren't allowed to.

A combination of restrictions imposed by the Musicians' Union and copyright people, no doubt agitated by the Beeb's reluctance to be seen to advertise, meant that they had to create most of it from scratch, outside the UK. Flights to Germany for musicians and producers to attend recording sessions can't have been cheap, so test card music must have represented quite an investment.

Like everything else forty years ago, test card music attracted a cult following. Though tracks were not billed in Radio Times, many fans simply became familiar which tracks were on which of the BBC's ¼" compilation spools, and in what order. I gather it was a bit of a shock when, one day, the Beeb changed all their tapes without telling anyone…

The Girl, The Doll, The Music is a cracking collection of colour-check compositions transmitted between 1966 and 1984. There are 22 tracks, all of them awesome. They come packaged with a spoken introduction ("Now we return you to the test card, and some music"), the iconic BBC jingle (literally the three notes B, B and C), and even a 440hz tone to jokingly round the whole thing off.

One potential parlour game for this disc would be to randomise your CD player and then challenge whoever else is present to identify each track's title. Many - such as Greenland Sleigh Dogs (aka Alaska) are instantly identifiable, but then my favourite piece Angry sounds anything but.

All in all, this is an astoundingly good lounge compilation, and I'm thrilled to have discovered while writing this that there is now also a second volume out. (other test card compilation series are available)

Next time BBC-2 suddenly postpones Dad's Army because of a football match, or a general election, or something else that they didn't see coming, I might just load this into the DVD player and stare distantly at its cover…

Track listing:

1. Introduction*
2. Royal Daffodil (Gordon Langford) - Stuttgart Studio Orchestra
3. Riga Road (Reinhard Egin / Mike Run) - The Westway Novelty Ensemble
4. Angry (Dudley Mecum / Joles Cassard / Henry Brunies) - The Oscar Brandenburg Orchestra
5. Capability Brown (Ernest Tomlinson) - Stuttgart Studio Orchestra
6. Waltz in Jazztime (Syd Dale) - The Cavendish Ten
7. Bella Samba (John Finten) - The Benito Gonzales Latin Sound
8. Holiday Highway (Brian Couzens) - Stuttgart Studio Orchestra
9. Cordorba* (Werner Tautz) - Orchestra Heinz Kiessling
10. My Guy`s Come Back (Mel Powell / Ray McKinley / Benny Goodman) - The Oscar Brandenburg Orchestra
11. The Lark in the Clear Air (Traditional arr. Gordon Langford) - The Langford Orchestra
12. Pandora* (Ray Davies) - New Dance Orchestra
13. Firecracker (Frank Chacksfield) - Fernand Terby Orchestra
14. Hebridean Hoedown (Gordon Langford) - Stuttgart Studio Orchestra
15. High Life (Otto Sieben) - The Gerhard Narholz Orchestra
16. Samba Fiesta* (Heinz Kiessling) - Orchestra Heinz Kiessling
17. Stately Occasion (Ernest Tomlinson) - Stuttgart Studio Orchestra
18. Chelsea Chick (Johnny Scott) - Mr. Popcorn's Band
19. Greenland Sleigh Dogs (aka Alaska)* - Roger Roger and his Orchestra
20. These Foolish Things (Jack Strachey) - The Cavendish Ten
21. March from 'The Colour Suite' (Gordon Langford) - Stuttgard Studio Orchestra
22. Long Hot Summer (Roger Roger) - Ensemble Roger Roger
23. Going Places (David Gold / Ernest Ponticelli / Gordon Rees) - The Oscar Brandenburg Orchestra
24. 440Hz Tone*

* mono recordings

Available here.

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