The theme song for a Yugoslavian/German TV co-production seems an unlikely place to start for a UK Top 10 hit back in 1968.
The original TV series was known under different names in both Slovenian and German before its success in those markets led to the series being dubbed into English and exported to the UK as “White Horses”, where it ran on a seemingly perpetual loop during the summer holidays of my childhood.
My two sisters were intrigued by this story of a young girl spending her summer holiday in the Yugoslavian countryside where her uncle owned a stud farm for Lipizzaner horses.
Lots of young girls are fascinated by horses…for reasons I’ve never really understood…and my sisters were no different.
Years later, I was fortunate to see the Lipizzaner horses at the famous Spanish Riding School in Vienna and my views changed somewhat. The horses were pure white, precise in their movements and aristocratically haughty. Entirely appropriate for their performance in Europe’s most beautiful Imperial capital.
But back in the 1970s, I was less sure about the attraction of horses. Frankly if there had been more than a couple of TV channels in those days I might have made more of a fuss about watching “White Horses” when there was nothing else on the TV during the school summer holidays.
More often than not, however, in those pre-internet, pre-streaming, pre-Spotify days there weren’t any better choices, so I stayed put and semi-grudgingly watched the show as my sisters drank in every moment of the drama unfolding in grainy black-and-white.
I did always love the theme song to “White Horses”, though, and hung around mainly for that.
To this day, hearing the song transports me back to my childhood. The summers are long again. Two months away from school seemed like a lifetime. It was a time to decompress that I wish I could have again as a adult.
Perhaps the reason I still remember “White Horses” after all these years is that it’s a very charming song.
It’s beautifully, and somewhat breathlessly, delivered by Jackie Lee, who was billed as Jacky for what turned out to be her biggest UK hit.
Jackie Lee had been a professional singer right through the 1950s and 60s. Before rock and roll came along, she’d been a successful vocalist with some of the top vocal groups of the day, regularly appearing on BBC Radio and on prime-time TV shows like “Sunday Night at the London Palladium”.
As rock and roll took over, old-style vocal groups dropped out of fashion and Jackie Lee became an in-demand vocalist for TV commercials and theme tunes (including Rupert the Bear, if you remember the original kids’ TV series) as well as a backing vocalist for some of the top artists of the late 1960s, including Jimi Hendrix, Tom Jones and Cliff Richard.
Eventually Jackie Lee gave up the music industry and moved on to other things. But, at least for people who were teenagers in the UK between the late 1960s and late 1970s, she will always be associated with that grainy old black-and-white TV series with Lipizzaner horses galloping to and fro, and fond memories of summers long gone.
You can probably guess (rightly) that the original Yugoslavian/German programme did not have an English theme song when it first came out. Michael Carr and Ben Nisbet re-did the theme song for a UK audience and created an instant classic.
The theme from “White Horses” topped a Penguin Publishing poll of the greatest TV themes in television history back in 2003…deservedly so.
Michael Carr and Ben Nisbet captured a wistful, dreamy, far away, summer holiday vibe just perfectly. And Jackie Lee, now renamed “Jacky” for reasons that remain unclear, delivered on those emotions perfectly…
On white horses let me ride away
To my world of dreams so far away
Let me run
To the sun
You don’t need to be a horse-made teenage girl to find something appealing in that concept. Even though the world of my dreams is no closer today than it was in the mid-1970s, finding it is an intoxicating concept I can’t quite bring myself to let go of.
We’d all like to find the place Jacky sung about…
To a world my heart can understand
It’s a gentle warm and wonderland
Where the clouds are made of candyfloss
As the day is born
When the stars are gone
We’ll race to meet the dawn
I don’t care how grizzled and cynical you are. There’s something really appealing in that concept.
That’s the enduring appeal of “White Horses”. It’s a dreamy, charming song that reminds us of long summer holidays from school and adventures in those far-off days when children were let out the house to play without a responsible adult in tow at all times.
Nowadays, Social Services would probably call round if you let your kids run through nearby fields all summer long, climb trees without carrying out a health and safety risk assessment and picnic in a forest without the use of a food hygiene-certified catering facility.
Seems incredible…but it was only 40 years ago. Now I can’t get my kids to go anywhere that doesn’t have wifi…how the world has changed…
But if you want to remember a kinder world and a simpler time…and summer holidays like they used to be…you can’t do much better than Jacky’s 1968 UK Top 10 hit, “White Horses”…
PS — just before we get to the video, if you enjoyed this article, please give it a “clap”…or even more than one if you’re feeling kind. You can also follow me on Medium (here) or Twitter (here) to get new articles as soon as they’re published. And why not check out my book “No Words, No Song”, where I write about more great songs like this one, available in the Kindle Bookstore (here).