8 January 2003 | F Gwynplaine MacIntyre
THE GREATEST T.V. THEME MUSIC **EVER**!!!
The TV series "Hennesey" had the greatest theme tune in the history of television ... hands down, no exceptions, bar none. Unfortunately, the series itself was not especially remarkable ... although it was an intelligent series, different from the usual fare. Before I describe that brilliant theme tune, let me describe the series itself.
"Hennesey" was one of the very first examples of a now-common practice: a TV series in which the leading actor is also the executive producer. Former child actor Jackie Cooper was active for many years in the Naval Reserve as a pilot, and he put his real-life experience to work in this series. Cooper starred as Lieutenant Charles Hennesey, a Navy doctor stationed at an onshore Naval base in California. "Hennesey" was nominally a comedy, but all of the situations and characters were realistic ... unlike the supposedly realistic "M*A*S*H", "Hennesey" never introduced an implausible situation for the sake of a cheap laugh. Much attention was devoted to character delineation and interaction in a realistic (peacetime) military setting. The biggest problem with this series was that it took place in a U.S. military base in the early 1960s yet managed to avoid any mention of Vietnam.
Although Cooper was the star and central character, this was an ensemble show. Arte Johnson (pre-"Laugh-In") had a good role as a wise-cracking, cynical "squid" (seaman first-class). James Komack played the least plausible character: a noncom who came from a wealthy family, and who therefore felt he didn't have to follow the same rules as everyone else. (So why didn't he buy his way out of military service?) I accept that people like this exist, but they're not normally found in the military. Komack's acting career never took off, but he later became immensely successful as a TV director and producer.
"Hennesey" was also innovative in its use of screen time. Each episode's dialogue typically began over the opening credits for that episode: this is commonplace nowadays, but "Hennesey" was the first TV series to do this.
And now for that great, great, GREAT theme tune: In keeping with this show's naval theme, composer Sonny Burke wrote a jaunty ragtime hornpipe tune for tuba and piccolo (interesting combination!) to a syncopated jazz beat, with an entire Marine Band coming in after the first 16 bars. The tune had no lyrics, but it's extremely whistle-worthy. I can't understand why the "Hennesey" theme is never included in those compilations of all-time great TV theme songs. The "Hennesey" hornpipe is infinitely better than the overrated "Hawaii Five-O" theme which so many people make too much fuss over.
"Hennesey" is a good show that deserves to be revived, and its theme tune deserves to be much better known. It's an unusual series -- a comedy without belly laughs, a drama without serious crises; always intelligent -- and I can understand why it has been forgotten. Most people would rather watch endless repeats of "Gilligan's Island" or "The Brady Bunch", or some other piece of mindless stupidity.