Ashgate Research Companion

Mera, M. (2009) ‘Reinventing Question Time’ in Derek Scott (ed.) The Ashgate Research Companion to Popular Musicology. Aldershot: Ashgate, 59-83.

Since it was first broadcast on 25 September 1979 the television programme¬†Question Time has become something of a national institution, offering British voters a unique opportunity to challenge leading politicians on the events of the day. ¬†The title music, originally composed by Stanley Myers (1930-1993), has been updated on several occasions, with recent incarnations by Matthew Strachan (composer of the theme for Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?) and Mcasso Music (an advertising music production company). All revisions remain faithful to Myers’ central thematic material-a recurrent semi-quaver motive-but like the playground game of ‘Chinese whispers’ the music mutates with each new version, indicating both the prioritized listening of each arranger as well as the changing programme brand. This process of revision also usefully charts the evolution of television scoring practice over the last thirty years, including developments in music technology. There is a shift from the individual composer to the collective, from analogue to digital, from ’scored’ to ’sequenced’, and from the recording studio session to the project studio. In addition the updated theme music reflects societal change and parallels the shifting British political spectrum, from the Capitalist Thatcherite government of the ’80s to the centre-left New Labour government of the late ’90s onwards. Using Myers’ original score, interviews, and archive examples of different versions of the updated theme-including some ‘demos’-this chapter demonstrates how thirty seconds of music can act as a rich repository of cultural, social, technological, and political meaning.