Your Hundred Best Tunes was a BBC Radio show which ran from 1959-2007 that played popular classical music tunes like Ode To Joy and The Enigma Variations — the stuff you can hum, basically. Even though it had been on the air since before I was born I’d never heard of it until I started working at WH Smith where the accompanying albums The World Of Your Hundred Best Tunes were regular sellers among the middle classes of Putney. There were 10 volumes of the albums released in the first half of the 70s and I remember them well because I was fascinated by the covers.
The main thing I always noticed was that none of the rooms had televisions in them. Had no entertainment media at all in fact, as it appeared the radio and even the record player had to brought in temporarily from another room to listen to music. This is because these were the sort of people with houses big enough to have a separate room for the television and record player. One of these was rooms was usually called either the Lounge or the Sitting Room, or even the Drawing Room if they were being extra posh. Like most things in English life how you referred to them often depended on your class. But they certainly wouldn’t have called it anything as working class as “the Front Room” like we did (even though it was at the back of our flat).
Another reason the television would have been tucked away in another room was that for a long time they were considered a bit common, something the unwashed masses watched, not something you put in the “nice” room. Early sets even had doors on them to hide the screen and make them look like a cabinet. If they had a set they would refer to it disparagingly as “the Gogglebox” and proudly claim they only watched the BBC on it, and even then only nature documentaries and The Proms.
In my experience people who bought Classical music were usually the rudest customers we got at Smith’s, the ones most likely to be curt and talk to you like a servant. I remember one lady expressing surprise that I knew something about Mozart as if she was expecting a mere shop worker like me to be a moron. This really brought out the class warrior in me and led me to think of the people on these sleeves as Daily Mail-reading Tories who would have worshipped Maggie Thatcher in the 80s and probably voted Brexit if they were still alive today.
Now they just look like kitschy snapshots of the 1970s but even back then I thought they were wistfully nostalgic. My family only ever gathered together in one room — the Front Room — to watch the telly. Often with our dinner in trays on our laps. How dreadfully common we were.
In a change from our usual programming here are some lovely tunes the show considered to be among the 100 best. Retire to your Lounge/Sitting Room/Drawing Room and chill out to these while enjoying a nice sweet sherry.
Download: Peer Gynt Suite (Morning) – Edvard Grieg (mp3)
Download: Variation IX (Adagio) – Edward Elgar (mp3)
Download: Intermezzo from ‘Cavalleria Rusticana’ – Pietro Mascagni (mp3)