Matthew Strachan death: Who Wants to be a Millionaire? composer dies age 50 - and was he charged with arson?

Matthew Strachan is best known as the composer who co-wrote the iconic music for the TV quiz show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?

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Matthew Strachan, best known as the composer who co-wrote the theme tune for quiz show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? with his father, has passed away at the age of 50.

Strachan became internationally recognised for the show’s iconic music as the programme launched over 100 different international variations, including in the United States, Russia and Italy.

Who was Matthew Strachan?

Strachan, born in London on 11 December 1970, was a singer songwriter, composer and lyricist.

He trained at Dartington College of Arts and Goldsmiths College, University of London, after which he began working as a soundtrack composer for TV, radio and theater productions throughout the 1990s.

Strachan’s career began by writing five songs for the BBCTV drama Boogie Outlaws, and over the course of his professional life he won 12 awards from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP).

In 2012, he and his father received the ASCAP Hall of Fame Award for “the most broadcast piece of music on American TV for the tenth consecutive year”. They were the first composers to be inducted into the ASCAP Hall of Fame.

In the early 2000s, Strachan lived in Nashville, Tennessee, for two years, collaborating with songwriters like Tom Kimmel, Don Henry and J. Fed Knobloch.

Upon returning to England, Strachan wrote score and lyrics for stage musicals About Bill and Next Door’s Baby. In 2016, he released a studio album called Serious Men.

As well as Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, Strachan’s other works include writing music for BBC Radio 4 drama Home Front, and a number of Jasper Carrott’s BBC comedy shows, like the police spoof The Detectives.

Strachan is also the creator of the fictional composer Klaus Harmony, who created music for 1970s European adult films.

In 2017, it was announced that a series of crime fiction books co-written by Strachan, and his wife Bernadette, would be published by Simon & Schuester.

How did he come to create music for Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?

In 2014, Strachan told BBC Radio London about the “unusual circumstances” in which he came to write the quiz show’s music.

He said: “A non-broadcast pilot had been made of the show and it was very unsuccessful, it just didn’t work.

“The executive producer of the show pulled into a lay-by one morning and called the entire creative team and said “We’re going to have to throw the entire thing out and start again from scratch, if we don’t ITV are just going to turn their back on this”.”

Strachan said that he and his father were then called into a meeting, and after having watched the show and met with the director, it was “eventually decided that there needed to be 95 pieces of music… to cover every eventuality of what happens on the show”.

He added: "There’s a piece of music for every event, there’s a piece of music for when the lights go down, then there’s an underscore for the questions…[it’s] the idea that it should be quite subliminal.

"And then we came up with the bright idea - which made a rod for our own backs - of putting up the music a semi-tone every time there was a new question, to sort of raise the stakes a bit - but that increased our workload... we were working 24 hours a day to get this thing done."

Strachan called the show a "particularly good piece of television", saying: "The format is great, it’s very simple, it’s very intimate and there’s inherent tension in the thing which is why I think all that lighting and the music works for it."

When did he die?

Strachan passed away at age 50 in September 2021. Speaking to the BBC, his father Keith Strachan, said: “Matthew was loved by his family and he will be sadly missed. He was a warm, funny and talented human being.”

Speaking to The Sun, London Ambulance Service confirmed they were called to Strachan’s home.

A spokesperson said: "We sent an ambulance crew, two medics in cars, and a hazardous area response team. Sadly, a person had died at the scene."

Scotland Yard also told The Sun: "Police were called by the London Ambulance Service at 11:03hrs to a residential address at Chudleigh Road, Twickenham to reports of a sudden death.

"Officers and the LAS attended and a man, in his 50s, was pronounced dead at the scene.

"The death is not thought to be suspicious. A file will be prepared for the coroner."

The West London Coroner added: “We are conducting an investigation into the death of Mr Strachan.

“A post mortem has taken place and we are awaiting toxicology and histology results. Once we have the results the pathologist will be able to finalise their report and hopefully ascertain the cause of death.”

Strachan is survived by his wife and their daughter Niahm.

Was he charged with arson?

Strachan’s death comes after he was given a suspended prison sentence for setting fire to his home.

In October 2020, Lavender Hill Magistrates’ Court heard that Strachan was charged with arson with recklessness. He was said to have lit fires in his kitchen and in piles of bedding at his home in Twickenham in March last year.

The case was sent to trial at Kingston Crown Court.

Strachan’s actions were described as “impulsive” in his state of “inebriation”, according to Philip McGhee. He added that Strachan was described “in high praise by people who know him as a musical talent [and] he is of considerable repute as a composer”.

McGhee said that Strachan “appreciates the seriousness of what he’s done and the impact he’s had on others”.

In August earlier this year, Strachan admitted arson and was sentenced to 10 months in prison suspended for two years. He was also required to undergo mental health and alcohol treatment, and pay £1,500 costs.

How is he being remembered?

After news of his death broke, many took to Twitter to remember the musician.

Theatre director Andrew Keates wrote: “If you ever saw any of my plays, the music would have been written by my friend Matthew Strachan. This news is very painful to receive and I will miss my talented friend for as long as I will live. Silence is ringing in my ears. Rest in peace Matthew.”

Composer Daniel Pemberton wrote on Twitter that Strachan “hit the holy grail that every TV composer dreams of” and that his work on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? “revolutionised both games shows and the TV industry”.

Writer and director Dirk Maggs tweeted: “Goodbye dear friend and massive talent Matthew Strachan. A gentle, kind, talented and wickedly funny Prince.”

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