TV theme composer Jack Parnell dies at 87
Lead the music on The Muppet Show for many years...

August 10, 2010

By Daily Mail Reporter

 Bandleader and drummer Jack Parnell, whose career as a TV composer saw him lead the music on The Muppet Show for many years, has died two days after his 87th birthday, his family announced today.

He died at his home in Southwold, Suffolk, yesterday following a year-long battle with cancer. He had also suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Parnell provided the music for shows such as Sunday Night At The London Palladium and wrote the theme tunes to programmes including The Golden Shot during his long spell as musical director at ATV.

In a musical career spanning seven decades, he was declared best drummer in the annual Melody Maker awards for many years and had a distinguished stint as drummer in the renowned Ted Heath Band, during which he formed his own ensemble.

He continued to perform until three years ago, playing jazz in venues near his home.

His wife Veronica said: 'He just used to love to tap away.'

Parnell celebrated his birthday on Friday, raising a glass of champagne with his family. His son Will, also a composer, said: 'He was determined to make it to see his birthday.'

London-born Parnell had performance in his blood: his father was a music hall artist while his uncle Val ran a string of theatres including the London Palladium.

He began to study piano as a child but found his niche on the drums, making his debut as a teenager on the seafront at Scarborough.

While serving in the RAF he became part of a band performing at the RAF Bomber Command HQ in High Wycombe.

He went on to join Ted Heath, playing on dozens of recordings and Forces broadcasts, and occasionally adding his vocals. Others among the line-ups included eminent jazz players such as Kenny Ball and Ronnie Scott.

Parnell also led his own band during this time and from 1951 left Heath to lead a 12-piece and then a 16-piece band.

When ITV launched, he landed the role of musical director for ATV - for which Parnell’s uncle Val was by now managing director.

During his decades at the broadcaster, he worked with legends such as Ella Fitzgerald, Sammy Davis Jr, Lena Horne and Nat King Cole.

He also made series with Tom Jones and Engelbert Humperdinck, acted as a panellist on TV talent show New Faces and was musical director for programmes such as The Benny Hill Show and a lavish production of Peter Pan starring Mia Farrow, Sir John Gielgud and Danny Kaye. He also composed signature tunes for programmes such as Family Fortunes.

In the late Seventies he began his association with The Muppet Show, for which he conducted the orchestra and frequently appeared on screen. He was instrumental in getting the jazz great Buddy Rich on the show.

Parnell retired from ATV in 1982, when it became Central Television, moving to Southwold but continuing to perform with the all-star veterans group Best Of British Jazz with trumpeter Kenny Baker and trombonist Don Lusher. He also played with his small group for weekly shows at the Green Man in Rackheath, Norfolk.

Parnell, a keen golfer who was married three times, had three sons - two of whom are also drummers - and two daughters.