Alan Hawkshaw, the musician and songwriter who composed some of the UK’s best known TV themes and was sampled across the hip-hop scene, has died aged 84. He had been admitted to hospital with pneumonia last week, and died early on Saturday.
Hawkshaw wrote the loping, almost reggae-like theme to Grange Hill (originally written years before and entitled Chicken Man), the motif for announcing the contestants’ time is up on Countdown, and the theme to Channel 4 News.
He also worked as a producer, songwriter or session musician with artists including David Bowie, Barbra Streisand, Serge Gainsbourg, Tom Jones and many more.
Born in Leeds, Hawkshaw was a pianist and Hammond organist who played in a series of pop and rock’n’roll groups in the 1960s onwards such as the Shadows (who had been Cliff Richard’s backing band), Emile Ford & the Checkmates, the Crescendoes and the Mohawks.
He played on recordings by Bowie and the Hollies and, moving with the times, embraced 1970s pop and disco as Olivia Newton-John’s musical director and as Donna Summer’s keyboardist. He ended up working on over 7,000 recording sessions.
Alongside his session work, he wrote and performed his own library music tracks: stock pieces of music that could be used for TV themes, advertising or other means. One of these, The Night Rider, was used for the James Bond-esque Cadbury’s Milk Tray adverts. These library music tracks, which span a wide variety of genres, became a treasure trove for hip-hop producers, and Hawkshaw samples can be heard on tracks by Jay-Z, Sugarhill Gang, Meek Mill and more.
The success of his compositions allowed him to create his own foundation, which supported underprivileged students at Leeds Conservatoire and the National Film & Television School.
He married his wife, Christine, in 1968, and they had two children, Kirsty and Sheldon. Christine paid tribute to Hawkshaw, saying: “He totally understood me. We spent the last few hours gazing at each other with love, holding hands, no need for words.”
His agent, Amanda Street, called him “simply a musical genius”.