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Last Updated: Thursday, 4 October 2007, 10:31 GMT 11:31 UK
Does the Frank Spencer music have Morse code?
Opening bars of Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em (courtesy of Warner Chappell Music)
Opening of Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em, decoded by Jim at BBC 6 Music

The Magazine answers...

The theme tune to Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em is recognised by millions, but is it true that it incorporates Morse code into its opening bars?

Mental images of the hapless Frank Spencer getting into another scrape are immediately conjured up when the piccolos open the theme tune to the classic BBC comedy Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em.

Frank Spencer

The series may have finished 30 years ago, but the music is strongly associated with Michael Crawford's walking disaster wearing a beret and a raincoat.

Its composer Ronnie Hazlehurst died this week and a story about a hidden meaning within that famous score, deciphered by Morse code, was mentioned in some obituaries.

To test the theory, the Magazine invited BBC 6 Music to produce a musical score of the first few bars and use the Morse code alphabet to link the notes to their corresponding letters of the alphabet.

Yes, the opening bars spell the title, minus the apostrophes
And indeed, the opening melody played out by the piccolos, spells the title (minus the apostrophes): Some Mothers Do Ave Em, as illustrated in the picture above.

It is a measure of the talents of Hazlehurst, also responsible for memorable theme tunes such as Last of the Summer Wine and Are You Being Served?, that he could compose a piece of music under this constraint.

'Shrill harmonies'

Alan JW Bell, a close friend of Hazlehurst and producer of Last of the Summer Wine, says the composer was a "musical genius and jester".

"He often played musical jokes. On one episode of the Last of the Summer Wine the storyline involved some oil being found so he composed the music in the style of Dallas.

Ronnie Hazlehurst
I wouldn't prostitute a tune, to bend it every which way to fit the title, but if I can make it so, I do.
Ronnie Hazlehurst

"It was so good we got a letter from the programme's solicitors threatening to sue us for breach of copyright. I wrote back saying that it was just in the style of the Dallas theme tune and there was no copyright on style.

"We never heard anything else and used the tune Ronnie had composed. It worked beautifully."

Other pieces of famous music use the same Morse code trick.

Barrington Pheloung hid such messages in his music for, rather aptly, ITV's Inspector Morse. He included names that either revealed the killer or threw people off the scent. There are also theories about music by artists such as Rush and Roger Waters.

But setting aside Hazlehurst's code, what about the qualities of the Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em score itself?

Question mark
A regular part of the BBC News Magazine, Who, What, Why? aims to answer some of the questions behind the headlines
Robert Hanks, writing in the Independent, says: "On the surface, the brief, staccato theme for the long-running comedy is both the strangest and the most apt of all Hazlehurst's tunes - barely a tune at all, in fact.

"A pair of piccolos pipe out foreshortened phrases with shrill harmonies: it is almost a picture in music of Michael Crawford's Frank Spencer, with his boyishness and inadequacy to every situation; though its brevity and austerity are at odds with the broadness of the gags."

For what Hanks describes as "a few seconds of genius", Hazlehurst was paid 30.


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