Minister Penny Mordaunt urges BBC to reintroduce Radio 4’s UK Theme that was axed in 2006


Bring back Radio 4’s UK Theme: Minister Penny Mordaunt urges BBC to reintroduce early morning tune that was axed in 2006 to reconnect with its audience and champion ‘diversity’

  • Penny Mordaunt wrote to Tim Davie urging him to bring the ‘UK Theme’ back 
  • She claimed it would help BBC ‘reconnect with its audience and rebuild trust’
  • 5-minute piece of orchestral music was written by Jewish refugee Fritz Spiegl
  • Spiegl composed it as ‘love song to those that took him in’, the minister said
  • Mashes together songs synonymous with England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland

A Cabinet Office minister has called on BBC Radio 4 to bring back its classical four-nations theme tune after it was axed in 2006.

Penny Mordaunt wrote to BBC director-general Tim Davie urging him to put the ‘UK Theme’ back on the airwaves, claiming it would help the BBC ‘reconnect with its audience’ and promote ‘regional and local diversity’.

The much-loved five-minute long piece of orchestral music was written by Jewish refugee Fritz Spiegl, who fled Austria to escape the Nazis in 1939.

He composed it as a ‘love song to those that took him in’, the minister said.

Cabinet Office minister Penny Mordaunt (pictured) wrote to BBC director-general Tim Davie urging him to put the ‘UK Theme’ back on the airwaves, claiming it would help the BBC ‘reconnect with its audience and rebuild that trust’

The much-loved five-minute long piece of orchestral music was written by Jewish refugee Fritz Spiegl (pictured), who fled Austria to escape the Nazis in 1939

The much-loved five-minute long piece of orchestral music was written by Jewish refugee Fritz Spiegl (pictured), who fled Austria to escape the Nazis in 1939

‘Love song’ to the four nations: Who composed the ‘UK Theme’ and why was it significant?

In 1973, composer Fritz Spiegl was commissioned to create a piece of music that would bring together all of Britain. 

He called the piece the ‘UK Theme’ and Radio 4 played it – in a recording by BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra – every morning at 5:30am.

It mashes together songs synonymous with England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. 

It starts off with Early One Morning, followed by Rule Britannia, Londonderry Air (known as Danny Boy) and Annie Laurie.

What Shall We Do with the Drunken Sailor? is then played, before Greensleeves, Men of Harlech and Scotland the Brave.

Fritz Spiegl himself was born in Austria in 1926 before his family fled in 1939 to escape the Nazis – with Fritz sent to England.

He was educated in Magdalen College in Oxford and the Royal Academy of Music before joining the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic as a principal flute in 1948.

He tried his hand at broadcasting, presenting BBC Radio – especially Radio 4 – regularly. 

Spiegl died during a Sunday lunch in 2003. He was with friends and his second wife Ingrid Frances Spiegl at the time.

It mashes together songs synonymous with England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland including: Danny Boy, What Shall We Do With the Drunken Sailor? and Scotland the Brave. 

Rule Britannia is repeatedly played throughout. 

But BBC bosses replaced the tune – which played every morning at 5.30 before the shipping forecast – with another news bulletin in 2006. 

In a letter to Mr Davie, Ms Mordaunt – writing as an MP – said: ‘There is much to be gained by the BBC reconnecting with its audience and rebuilding that trust, and I know that is your focus.’

She said that trust was diminished when the ‘UK Theme’ was taken off air.

Ms Mordaunt claimed the song is not controversial nor jingoistic and is instead a ‘love song’ from Spiegl to ‘those that took him in’.

She urged the BBC to consider bringing the song back, and said it would be a way for the corporation to show it had listened to the wants of its licence fee-payers.

Sources close to the minister told The Daily Telegraph more-modern songs to encapsulate the four nations could help bring the piece up to date.

Rule Britannia was marred with controversy last year after critics blasted it – and fellow patriotic tune Land of Hope and Glory – as ‘racist’.

The BBC made the decision to drop the singing of both songs at the 2020 proms. 

Radio 4’s then-controller Mark Damazer made the decision to pull the UK Theme in 2006.

The move was blasted by top names including Jeremy Paxman, who threatened to play the theme daily on Newsnight unless the decision was recanted.

He justified the move by saying listeners would be ‘better served by a pacy news briefing’ in the morning. 

He added: ‘I know there are some people who will regret the passing of the UK Theme, but I believe the bulk of the audience will be better served by a pacy news briefing, read by one of Radio 4’s team of news readers.’

It later emerged that Mr Damazer misinterpreted a report about how many people liked to listen to the tune – thinking the figures were in their hundreds rather than their hundreds of thousands.

He later said: ‘I don’t regret it but I think I underestimated the fact that I was causing some people considerable pain.’

In a letter to Mr Davie (pictured), Ms Mordaunt - writing as an MP - said: 'There is much to be gained by the BBC reconnecting with its audience and rebuilding that trust, and I know that is your focus'

In a letter to Mr Davie (pictured), Ms Mordaunt – writing as an MP – said: ‘There is much to be gained by the BBC reconnecting with its audience and rebuilding that trust, and I know that is your focus’

Composer Spiegl was born in Austria in 1926 before his family fled in 1939 to escape the Nazis. Spiegl was sent to England.

He was educated in Magdalen College in Oxford and the Royal Academy of Music before joining the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic as a principal flute in 1948.

He tried his hand at broadcasting, presenting BBC Radio – especially Radio 4 – regularly. He became well-known for creating the Radio 4 ‘UK Theme’

Spiegl died during a Sunday lunch in 2003. He was with friends and his second wife Ingrid Frances Spiegl at the time.

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