The most common tune played by clock chimes, in both in Real Life and fiction, is the one known as Westminster Quarters. The tune is constructed from five different sequences combining four pitches. Not all five are played at once: even at the full hour, only the last four are used, followed by between one and twelve strokes on a deeper bell. The most popular of these sequences would seem to be the fourth (mi, do, re, so) and fifth (so, re, mi, do). (These are also played at third quarter, followed by the first.) Therefore, the most commonly heard in fiction are the fourth and fifth sequences, or the fourth alone, often repeated for effect in either case.
Japanese school bells often sound like this, to the point where it's a Stock Sound Effect in high school anime.
A somewhat common variant is to use only the fourth sequence, but with the first note raised a half step so that the first two notes make a falling fourth rather than a falling major third. In this augmented variation, the tonic is usually transposed to the first note from the second (i.e. do, sol, la, re rather than fa, do, re, sol).
A little-known fact is that the quarters have LYRICS. There are many variations, but the lyrics used by Big Ben (featured on a plaque in the clockworks room, visible in an episode of Rosie and Jim) are:
Though it is a Regional Riff to establish you're in the U.K., if it is used in any work set in 2017-2020 (except Remembrance Sunday and New Year's Day) then its use is inaccurate — Big Ben was "turned off" for these years.
- Used in one of the Tenchi Muyo! movies as part of an Establishing Shot for a school.
- Also used in Doctor Slump for the same purpose, usually with the Sun or other wacky character singing "KIN KON KAN KON" out loud in the foreground.
- Used in the anime adaptation of Cardcaptor Sakura.
- The September chapter of The Garden of Words starts with a scene at school where the Big Ben sound can be heard in the background.
- In a Czech dramatization of Sense and Sensibility, Westmister Chimes are used to indicate that Marianne, Elinor and Mrs Jennings arrived in London.
- In the Patrick Stewart narrated version of A Christmas Carol, the chimes are used to indicate each quarter hour between midnight and one AM as Scrooge waited for the appearance of the Ghost of Christmas Past. The original book only uses "ding dong" for this purpose, but perhaps something more interesting was desired for an audio-only presentation.
- Incorporated in the score for Mary Poppins, during the rooftop scene, between orchestral reprises of "Spoonful of Sugar" and "Feed the Birds".
- Can be heard in Sherlock Holmes (2009) during Blackwood's New Era Speech at the Parliament.
- The doorbell at the home of the eponymous Laura in Laura.
- In The Ghost and Mr. Chicken, when Luther Heggs is spending the night in the haunted house, these bells can be heard in the distance just before the famous scene with the self-playing organ and the bleeding portrait.
- The chimes are heard as the Beatles enter the Sea Of Time in Yellow Submarine.
- In Back to the Future, when Marty travels back in time to 1955, the Hill Valley clock tower plays these at one point.
- Discworld: In Reaper Man, a demon-powered pocketwatch announces the half-hour by saying "Bing bing bong bing. Bingely-bingely bong bing bing". This trope is so familiar that even in print you can tell it's meant to be Westminster Quarters.
- Ciaphas Cain makes a reference to the ancient tune in The Emperor's Finest, saying of a techpriest that the universe not only ran like clockwork for him, but chimed the first few bars of 'Throne Eternal' on the hour. The words fit the best-known Chimes sequence quite well.
- In A Christmas Carol, as Scrooge is awaiting the arrival of the Ghost of Christmas Past at one o'clock a.m.:
The quarter was so long, that he was more than once convinced he must have sunk into a doze unconsciously, and missed the clock. At length it broke upon his listening ear.
A quarter past, said Scrooge, counting.
Half-past! said Scrooge.
A quarter to it, said Scrooge.
The hour itself, said Scrooge, triumphantly, and nothing else!
He spoke before the hour bell sounded, which it now did with a deep, dull, hollow, melancholy One.
- The Beverly Hillbillies had a doorbell that made this sound. Naturally, whenever someone rang the doorbell, they had no idea where the sound was coming from and attempted to search for the song's source. Their search was always then interrupted by someone knocking on the door.
- Doctor Who: In "The Empty Child", Captain Jack Harkness uses a gadget to make Big Ben ring when he shows Rose that he's parked his invisible spaceship right by the clocktower.
- Everybody Loves Raymond: The doorbell of Ray and Debra's annoying rivals, the Parkers.
- Keeping Up Appearances: The doorbell of the Buckets, probably at the insistence of Hyacinth (who insists the name is pronounced "Bouquet"). Whenever people ring the doorbell, they give a look evincing the thought, "dear God, even her doorbell is pretentious!"
- The King of Queens: The doorbell of Doug and Carrie's annoying neighbors, the Sackskys.
- The Prisoner (1967): The chimes are a key plot point in "The Chimes of Big Ben". They help Number Six realise he hasn't escaped to London, and remains a captive in The Village.
- Rosie and Jim: In the episode "Big Ben", when the duo enter the mechanism of Big Ben, the plaque featuring the lyrics of the chimes is visible.
- Scrubs: "Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong... wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong."
- The Theme Song to Yes, Minister was based on this motif (after all the original is attached to the Houses of Parliament in Westminster).
- The intro to "Let 'Em In" by Wings.
- Paul wasn't the only ex-Beatle to work these into one of his solo songs. They also feature quite prominently as a Recurring Riff in George Harrison's "Ding Dong, Ding Dong."
- Played on the harp in the first and last movements of Symphony No.2, A London Symphony, by Ralph Vaughan Williams, as a way of establishing the London-inspired atmosphere of the symphony and then bringing it full circle.
- The Fugue in A Major from "The Short-Tempered Clavier" by P.D.Q. Bach uses this complete with twelve o'clock chime.
- The opening to The Ohio State University Marching Band's rendition of the school's alma mater, Carmen Ohio, has the trumpet sections mimicking the bells (which play on campus every fifteen minutes at the Orton Hall belltower).
- The jazz standard "If I Were a Bell" starts out with a jazzy version of the chimes.
- Jeff Beck quotes this in The Yardbirds song "Jeff's Boogie".
- The opening riff of X's "Los Angeles" is meant as a variation on this - it's done at a fast enough tempo that you might not catch the intentional similarity at first.
- The intro of Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling's "The Chimes Of Big Ben". Which makes sense because the song is inspired by the Prisoner episode of the same name.
- Supertramp uses the chimes during the one of the collage sections in "Fool's Overture".
- Patrick Wolf's London incorporates the last two measures, played on a piano.
- "Clock Strikes Ten" by Cheap Trick features Rick Nielsen playing the WC with harmonics.
- French organist and composer Louis Vierne wrote one of his most frequently performed works, "Carillon de Westminster" (the closer of the third of his four Pièces de fantaisie suites), around the full set of chimes (although, whether accidentally or deliberately, he changed a few notes in some appearances of the half-hour chime sequence).
- Setia Band's "Stasiun Cinta" plays the chimes twice after the first chorus.
- Heyho's "Stasiun Tua" plays the chimes after singing "Di Stasiun Tua" in the first chorus.
- Plays at the intro of "Playin' My Atari" by Bloated Monkey.
- The Westminster section of Eric Coates' London Suite is of course based around them. It opens with them played slowly on strings, so it takes a moment to realise that's what they are.
- French singer Renaud used an electronic version of the first eight notes to open and conclude his song "Miss Maggie", which is a big Take That! aimed at Margaret Thatcher.
- Sung toward the end of "Half Past Midnight" by '60s Canadian group The Staccatos.
- Plays in Fun House when the clock is advanced to 11:30, signifying that balls are ready to be locked for multiball.
- The BBC uses a recording of Big Ben striking to signal the beginning of some news reports on some stations. It's used to signal the 4 p.m. and midnight news services on Radio 4 (and also the 10 p.m. news on Sundays) and on the World Service. The World Service bit includes both the English-language World Service and many BBC foreign-language services (e.g. the BBC Arabic Service).
- Every episode of The Men from the Ministry opens with the chime, establishing the series' setting as London.
- "Tender Shepherd" in the musical Peter Pan, though the low "sol" is often avoided by the singers.
- This forms the basis for the background music of Twinkle Elementary in MOTHER and Sunflower Elementary in Hamtaro: Ham-Hams Unite!!
- Used as the background music for the pinball stage in Parodius Da!
- It appears briefly at the beginning of the Tokimeki Memorial stage in Jikkyou Oshaberi Parodius. And by extension, it's a staple of the Tokimeki Memorial series, being Konami's Japanese High School Romance Game series.
- The fourth segment is used at the beginning of the Clefairy pointing minigame in Pokémon Stadium.
- Pokémon Stadium 2 uses it for battles in Earl's Academy—the chimes play, then it segues into an arrangement of the Pokemon Center theme.
- Persona 4 plays the fourth segment at the end of every school day in-game, naturally it's a Japanese school you're at.
- Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors uses this as a puzzle- You have to play it on a piano that has its keys rearranged.
- Used as menu music in Grand Theft Auto: London 1969.
- Parodied in Dawn of War, where an Ork says the word "Orkz" in this fashion.
- Heard after each wave in Thwaite to signify that an hour has passed between waves.
- The Arcade Game Kangaroo plays the Big Ben chimes when you ring the bell. (This replenishes the fruits.)
- Used when you make it to 6 AM in Five Nights at Freddy's. Yaaaaaaay!
- Similarly to how the chime plays at the end of a school day in Japan, the sunset in the Pikmin games is marked with the Westminster chimes. The fourth note is higher than normal, however.
- In Battleground Z, the pencil's charged attack, Cram Session, cuts to a classroom in which the player character is trying to teach simple arithmetic to every zombie that was on screen when the attack was used, only to zap them with a Bolt of Divine Retribution when they just sit there looking dazed. The soundtrack for the scene is the Westminster chimes.
- The Keyboard toy in Nintendogs + Cats has a button that will play this tune.
- Danganronpa has the Westminster melody play before Monokuma's morning and nighttime announcements. If the horror factor of the series is removed, they actually play before every announcement by the staff members in Hope's Peak Academy.
- The WrestleCrap Radio podcast briefly featured a device called the Clocktrolla (meant to count down the days until WWE Women's Champion Candice Michelle eclipsed The Fabulous Moolah's twenty-eight-year reign as champion); upon activation, the Clocktrolla played a terrible rendition of the tune, performed on steam whistles.
- Used for Rarity's doorbell in My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic.
- The first three Looney Tunes shorts to use the stylized title sequences from the 1960's have the chimes play over the end titles as the shapes forming the abstract "WB" appear one by one.
- Around the World with Willy Fog: Big Ben is heard at the beginning of each episode. The narrator recaps what happened previously and how is Mr Fog's doing as he speaks over the chimes. Viewers are then shown what happens in London in the Reform Club as the gentlemen who bet against Mr Fog and Mr Fog's avid supporters compare their information and talk about Mr Fog's journey.
- Orson and Olivia: The theme tune starts with the Westminster chimes, complete with the establishing shot of the Westminster tower. The chimes are also heard at the beginning of the first episode with shots of London and its roof. Used as Regional Riff because the story is set in Victorian London.
- The Trope Namer and Trope Codifier is Big Ben at the Palace of Westminster.
- The tune really originated from Great St. Mary's church in Cambridge, England, and was known as the "Cambridge" chimes before it was used in "Big Ben".
- Brownies (the UK equivalent of Girl Scoutsnote ) often used to end meetings with a song to this tune: "Oh Lord our God/ Thy children call/ Grant us thy peace/ And bless us all." Nowadays, because of the reference to God, another song is often used instead.
- At the 2012 Summer Olympics, Charlotte Dujardin won Britain's first individual dressage gold in decades, with a routine that matched the chimes to the strides in a canter pirouette◊.
- In Indonesia, train stations play this sound as a sign of train departure and arrival. Upon arrival of a train, the chimes will be looped continuously until it departs from the station. Indonesians mostly refers to the chimes as bel kereta, which means "train bells".
- The New York Yankees play this when one of their players scores a run (home games only).