‘Sideways Like a Crab’: The Sound of Everything

Nick Walker
5 min readMay 22, 2016

There are three main ways of musically scoring TV programmes. You can pay for bespoke compositions for your production. You can try to license existing commercial music by paying the rights owners to use their music (but Yellow Submarine? Who could afford it?). Or you can purchase library music — specially created tracks with minimal restrictions for television use — from somewhere like Audio Network.

There’s one piece of library music that, once you’ve noticed it, seems to be remarkably pervasive in factual and non-scripted TV.

Sideways Like a Crab is a piece of music made by prolific composer Paul Mottram. Mottram’s works can be heard in films, adverts and TV programmes with close to 500 of his compositions, ranging from orchestral to barbershop styles, available for license from Audio Network. But there’s something about Sideways Like a Crab that seems to have seen it plucked off the shelf more than most.

Described to potential users as a ‘quirky lolloping groove with jaunty whistle’, the track has been available to library users since 2006. Why does it keep popping up on British TV documentaries? Maybe because it makes the perfect backdrop for almost any scene.

Police documentary
The show following the coppers at a non-stop British police force as they serve justice on our streets.
There’s a scene, maybe about 20–25 minutes into this 1 hour show, where two crime-busting PCs have to deal with something out of the ordinary and lightweight in the grand scheme of things. Something like a goose holding up B-road traffic or a fuming middle aged man complaining about a rigged tombola at a school fete.
Background music: Sideways Like a Crab.

Bailiffs documentary
Following a team of bailiffs and/or ‘sheriffs’ (i.e. bailiffs) as they seize worldly goods from people in debt. This is not just one programme — this is a genre of television.
There’s a gruff main bailiff and we mostly see him arguing on the doorstep with various people about whether they’re going to pay their arrears on the spot or lose their car.
Some small moment of levity in this otherwise bleak hour of TV might come as the recovery truck that arrives at the crack of dawn to pick up a Mazda struggles to reverse into a narrow cul-de-sac.
Gruff Main Bailiff stands in the road guiding the truck’s driver backwards, while the camera pans around trees and parked cars inches away from getting effed up. Gruff Main Bailiff says something wry like “This isn’t in my job description” while the Mazda’s hitherto owner stands in the doorway of his house in pants and a t-shirt unable to stop this slow moving heist of hitherto his vehicle with any cash or debit cards.
Background music: Sideways Like a Crab

Property buying programme
Some people have money and decide to buy a property with the help of either property experts, or a presenter who’s a bit nosey and doesn’t mind parroting back the estate agent’s notes on the ‘good sized master bedroom’.
There’s something weird about one of the properties. The presenter can hardly contain their mirth at this strange detail of the house. There’s a Z-shaped kitchen! The current owner sure does like gnomes! Look at the tiny stairs! Oh no — it’s Japanese knotweed! I hope you like bats, because there sure as hell are loads of them in the upstairs lav!
Background music: Sideways Like a Crab

Property makeover programme
Some people have money and decide to makeover a property with the help of either design experts, or a presenter who’s a bit nosey and doesn’t mind parroting back the architect’s notes on the ‘potential for a good-sized master bedroom’.
These idiots have totally blown their budget.
Background music: Sideways Like a Crab

Competitive home cooking show
Look — If you wanted Come Dine With Me, you could have got Come Dine With Me. It’s on another channel, probably right now. This is because you’re too lazy to find which channel that is.
Even though the participants applied for this programme of their own free will and they know what it involves, someone for some reason will have left it until the cameras and lights are literally in their face to remember some completely obvious and essential item for achieving success. They don’t have enough dining chairs for all the people to sit on, for example. They need to go knocking on all the houses in their street in the middle of a weekday afternoon to get hold of additional seating.
The cameras follow them as they tap on the doors of all neighbours, who are either out of the house or cowering behind a curtain pretending to be out, before they eventually reach a lovely neighbour who is glad to lend a couple of her dining chairs for the evening.
Later in the programme, a dinner guest breaks the chair.
Background music: Sideways Like a Crab

Fixer show
In Part One an expert arrives to chaos and disarray at a failing business.
In Part Two the expert proposes some radical changes to the business, which cause everyone to fall out.
In Part Three the fixer returns to the business and is disappointed that the owners haven’t turned their two-star B&B, or whatever, into the Blackpool outpost of the Shangri-La Group and proposes smaller changes to be made in time for some external people to come and assess the business.
In Part Four someone from the local paper and a few townspeople pop in and exclaim that the expert person has made wonderful changes to the business, which makes the owners and the expert chuffed. The expert flies off on a brolly to the next disaster.

In Part Two, when everyone is going into meltdown over the new changes like ‘Vacuum the carpets, you slobs’ and ‘You’d let more light in if you got rid of all the clown statues in the windows’, the business owner will find themselves put out by having to make these amendments. They’ll drag their feet at having to serve guests breakfast for more than 45 minutes in the morning.
The fixer will loom over them as they have to force themselves to crack a welcoming smile to a customer for the first time since Jim Bowen briefly visited in 1992. The owner will wonder why they’re putting themselves through this on TV before being haunted by the memory of their last gas bill.
Background music: Sideways Like a Crab

Next time you’re watching a light British TV documentary, do listen out for the quirky lolloping groove of Sideways Like a Crab. Because it is everywhere. And it’s cheaper than Don’t Worry Be Happy.



Nick Walker

It's me, Nick Walker, posting all kinds of stuff on medium dot com