Alan Hawkshaw, composer of Countdown and Grange Hill, dies aged 84 | Music

Alan Hawkshaw, the musician and songwriter who composed some of the UK’s best-known TV themes and sampled the hip-hop scene, has died aged 84. He was admitted to hospital with pneumonia last week and died early Saturday.

Hawkshaw wrote the catchy, almost reggae-like Grange Hill theme (originally written years before and titled Chicken Man), the motif for announcing the contestants’ time is up on Countdown and the theme for Channel 4 News.

He has also worked as a producer, songwriter or session musician with artists such as David Bowie, Barbra Streisand, Serge Gainsbourg, Tom Jones and many more.

Born in Leeds, Hawkshaw was a Hammond pianist and organist who from the 1960s played in a series of pop and rock ‘n’ roll bands such as the Shadows (who had been Cliff Richard’s backing band) , Emile Ford and the Checkmates. , Crescendoes and Mohawks.

He played on Bowie and the Hollies recordings and, moving with the times, embraced 1970s pop and disco as musical director to Olivia Newton-John and keyboardist to Donna Summer. He ended up working on over 7,000 recording sessions.

Alongside his session work, he wrote and performed his own library music tracks: stock music tracks that could be used for television themes, advertising, or other means. One of them, The Night Rider, was used for James Bond-esque Cadbury’s Milk Tray commercials. These library music tracks, which span a wide variety of genres, have become a treasure trove for hip-hop producers, and samples of Hawkshaw can be heard on tracks by Jay-Z, the Sugarhill Gang, Meek Mill and others.

The success of his compositions enabled him to create his own foundation, which supported disadvantaged pupils at the Leeds Conservatory and the National Film and Television School.

He married Christine in 1968 and they had two children, Kirsty and Sheldon. Christine paid tribute to him, saying, “He totally understood me. We spent the last few hours looking at each other lovingly, holding hands, no words needed.

His agent, Amanda Street, called him “simply a musical genius”.