“That Was the Best Version I Have Ever Heard of It”
TJ Worthington interviews Ron Roker
First published July 2005
One of the most prolific and successful pop songwriters of the 1970s, Ron Roker was responsible for a great deal of the memorable hits of that decade, among them The Fortunes’ Storm in a Teacup, Tina Charles’ Love Bug and Dance Little Lady Dance, and Barry Blue’s Dancing on a Saturday Night and Do You Wanna Dance? What is less well known is that he was also responsible for two superb and much-loved pop-styled theme tunes from ITV lunchtime children’s shows: Inigo Pipkin and The Adventures of Rupert Bear – which was not only a substantial hit single but has also remained familiar to each successive generation since. Recently OTT had the pleasure of speaking to Ron and finding out the story behind those widely-treasured 7″ singles.
OTT: At the time The Adventures of Rupert Bear was made, it was quite unusual for a television series to have a specially-written pop song for its theme tune. How did you come to get involved with the project?
RON ROKER: I was a songwriter and record producer signed to Welbeck Music, the publishing arm of ATV, when in 1969, I was asked to come up with a song for the first ever series about Rupert. As a child, I had always received the books for Christmas from my Gran every year, so I obviously knew and loved these beautifully illustrated stories and all the characters from Nutwood, as much as many kids did in those post-war years. So, together with my old pal Len Beadle (alias Frank Weston), we wrote the Rupert song as the theme for the show, never knowing if it would even be released. After we had finished, Len suggested his wife Jackie Lee, who had been a singer with him in the vocal group The Raindrops, should perform it. I agreed, because not only was Jackie a fabulous vocalist, she had that something extra that not all female singers have, a “Doris Day” smile in her voice. She was perfect and her performance proved it.
OTT: Did you see any footage or any of the puppets from The Adventures of Rupert Bear or Inigo Pipkin before writing the songs, or were you given any kind of brief about the shows and outline of what the producers wanted from the theme songs?
RON ROKER: Yes we were given a brief idea about both the shows, but in the case of Rupert we already knew and loved the character purely from the books we had grown up with. There was a discussion about the programme and some artwork, but nothing else at that time – so we saw no models as such. We approached the themes as we normally did when writing a pop song in those days. It needed to be a short verse into a catchy chorus line within 60 seconds with plenty of hooks in the arrangement. We tried to make them cute and commercial enough to work on its own as a record, even without a show, and with Jackie’s magic voice we hoped we had the right formula. We were told by ATV and the Express (who owned the character) that the music should retain the gentle element that was the essence of Rupert, so we kept that in mind. I remember after we finished, there was a problem about using the name “Rupert the Bear” in the chorus instead of just “Rupert Bear”, but when they heard the finished production they all took to it, and didn’t mind the change. With the other names mentioned in the song we chose the most obvious characters we thought made up Rupert’s pals and it seemed to work.
OTT: Were you present at any of the recording sessions for either theme song?
RON ROKER: We recorded the singles together in Pye studios and both sessions were fun. We got involved in sound effects too, Len and I ended up clapping our hands in front of our open mouths round the mike, to make an explosive popping sound to help jog the rhythm along. We had a great time on both the sessions and tried always to make a finished master recording that would have a chance of being released as a single.
OTT: Was Rupert always intended for single release, or did this just come about as a result of the popularity of the song through the series?
RON ROKER: When the production was finished it was decided by Pye records that they wanted to release it as a single. So clutching the first pressings and full of trepidation I approached the BBC radio producers who said, with tongues in cheeks: “Why should we plug a record that’s a theme song for an ATV show?” But they were only kidding and backed the song for us. After devising a quiz for Junior Choice, the Saturday morning Radio One Breakfast show with Ed “Stewpot” Stewart, they played it and loads of the children won and received the first toys manufactured of Rupert as a prize just in time for Christmas Eve. With Inigo Pipkin, however, we were asked to make a record of it first, as by that time the powers that be wanted a record to go with the show.
OTT: The single version of Inigo Pipkin was very different to the one used on screen – was this your decision or were you asked to come up with two separate arrangements?
RON ROKER: We recorded what became the single version first and gave it a reggae beat, and Jackie once again did a fabulous job. I think that version must have lacked something in the eyes of the producers of the show, because unlike Rupert where the record was used for the front and end of the show, the Inigo Pipkin track was not left to stay front and end, and we were asked to rearrange it – I still don’t know why. We thought we had made a good record, but maybe the song itself wasn’t strong enough, but the show certainly had a magical quality about it that viewers loved, because it became very popular.
OTT: A later Jackie Lee record written by yourself and Frank Weston, Peter Pan, is very much in the style of Rupert and there has been some speculation that this might have been written for a prospective pilot show that never got off the ground. What was the actual story behind it?
RON ROKER: There never was a TV show – Jackie was asked to make an album of children’s songs, “Jackie’s Junior Choice”, and Len and I wrote Peter Pan as, like Rupert, he was another fabulous British children’s character from the fantastic wealth of children’s literature by British authors, and known throughout the world.
OTT: Apart from your more obvious UK chart hits, what other interesting songwriting projects have you been involved with since the shows were made?
RON ROKER: I’ve been lucky enough to have had songs recorded by a wide variety of artists; Dionne Warwick recorded (Do You Believe In) Love at First Sight? which was used as the theme to the Dan Aykroyd movie of the same name, Polly Brown’s Up in a Puff of Smoke was a top 20 hit in America in the 1970s, Guilty was a hit for both The Pearls and First Choice. In 1983 I was involved with the UK’s Eurovision entry, I’m Never Giving it Up by Sweet Dreams, which came sixth in the finals held in Germany. Recently I have had my work covered by rap artists Redman & Missie Elliot on the gold album “Malpractice”, on a song called Dat Bitch. This is a far cry from Rupert, but as a songwriter you never stop writing, so I have covered a wide range of musical styles, and I hope to continue till my pen runs out of ink.
OTT: How do you regard the shows now, and how does it feel to know that your song is what most people normally think of first whenever Rupert Bear is mentioned?
RON ROKER: The Adventures of Rupert Bear was a major triumph for producers John Read and Mary Turner, and I am still eternally grateful to them for using our little song. About Christmas time in the year that the show was first transmitted, I happened to be window-shopping outside the Selfridges in Oxford street. They always did a toy window display, and this was beautifully displayed as Nutwood with the bendy toys of Rupert and other characters. In front of the window were two children with their mum, when they saw Rupert they shouted out to mum: “Look Mummy, it’s Rupert” then quietly began to sing the tune. I walked away with a feeling of joy that I still remember to this day. That was the best version I have ever heard of it. With regard to the Rupert song, I am always amazed and delighted by people’s reaction to it, and honoured that it still has a small part in people’s memory of Rupert, but the character himself is the legend and, along with his pals and Nutwood, will continue forever, long after the song has been forgotten.
WITH THANKS TO RON ROKER