In September 2022 the BBC quiz show Mastermind will have been on our screens for 50 years, and every one of its episodes has started (and finished) with the same rather foreboding music.


Like many piece of music used by classic TV shows, Mastermind’s theme tune was licensed from a music library and it has another – rather appropriately unsettling – name… ‘Approaching Menace’.

Written for a 1970 KPM library album called Dramatic Background, it’s a slow doom-ridden march for percussion, brass and strings which is today synonymous with that imposing ‘big black chair’ under the spotlight where contestants are interrogated.

Like all library pieces used for TV, we only hear a small amount (usually the beginning and end) of what was actually written and recorded. The longer piece has a much more elaborate middle section, with woodwinds, harp and searing strings repeating the motif we’re more familiar with.

The piece was written by the late Neil Richardson (1930-2010), who composed regularly for British music libraries, though this is without question his most familiar work. Richardson also played a key role at the BBC, conducting a number of its long-since-abandoned Radio Orchestras. As a conductor and arranger he also worked on film and television scores, and recordings for other composers, including the late Richard Rodney Bennett.

Born in Worcestershire, Richardson served as a chorister at Westminster Abbey and studied under William Lloyd Webber at the Royal College of Music.

‘Approaching Menace’ was re-recorded as simply ‘Mastermind Theme’ in 2010 by the BBC Philharmonic, in a new arrangement by Clark Rundell. That version, which is no less menacing than the original, continues to be used today. Here’s a clip of the recording session:


Top image by BBC


Michael BeekReviews Editor, BBC Music Magazine

Michael is the Reviews Editor of BBC Music Magazine. He was previously a freelance film music journalist and spent 15 years at St George's Bristol. Michael specialises in film and television music and was the Editor of He has written for the BBC Proms, BBC Concert Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Royal Albert Hall, Hollywood in Vienna and Silva Screen Records.