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Is the British national anthem too short?

Lewis Hamilton
Image caption Lewis Hamilton's podium moment was under 44 seconds

After victory at Germany's Grand Prix, Formula 1 driver Lewis Hamilton complained that the British national anthem should be longer. Does he have a point?

Up on the podium Lewis Hamilton put on his hat, took it off, shuffled from leg to leg, stuck his hands up in the air and before he knew it his national anthem was over, the applause began and he was given his trophy.

One verse of the God Save the Queen was played in under 44 seconds, ignoring two other verses and one unofficial verse.

That isn't enough for Hamilton. "It's like, is that it?" he grumbled in a radio interview after winning.

He wants it to be longer, in the interest of fairness. "When I'm standing there and it is Felipe's [Massa] one it's like 10 minutes long." That's a little exaggerated - when Massa won the Bahrain F1 in 2008 he was up on the podium for one minute 58 seconds but only 55 seconds of that was the Brazilian national anthem. It then melded into the Italian national anthem, for his team, Ferrari. As Lewis's team, McLaren, is British, F1 didn't repeat the anthem.

The problem comes with finding a suitable place to cut an anthem. While God Save The Queen has relatively short verses which can be repeated to lengthen, others have a verse and chorus with no natural place to end the song early on. This creates the disparity at sporting events.

The F1 driver is not alone in thinking the national anthem should be longer. Composer Phillip Sheppard agrees. He's recently recorded a version for the Olympics which lasts one minute 25 seconds. He did this by playing two verses.

For Sheppard, one verse doesn't let the song get into its stride.

"I've made the first an introductory verse. Stylistically I've made it so that it feels that by the second verse it is outrageously triumphant, because I'm assuming we'll have a lot of podium time in the Olympics and I think we want to make the most of it."

The composer has arranged and recorded 205 national anthems in preparation for the 2012 Olympics.

Image caption Olympic gold medallists get to hear at least 60 seconds of their anthems

But unlike Hamilton, Sheppard is not concerned with fairness. There was a very practical reason behind the length. The anthem will be used at the gold medal ceremonies where the victorious country's flag is raised. It takes at least a minute to allow a flag to ascend gracefully. And then there is a maximum of thirty seconds before "people get bored", he says.

Sheppard fitted every competing nation's anthem between 60 and 90 seconds.

This means Brazilians would miss out on more than 20 seconds of celebration on the podium. And the world's newest national anthem - South Sudan's - would be sliced by at least 27 seconds.

Mini operas

Other anthems need to be cut down by a whole lot more. Michael Bristow, who compiled the book National Anthems of the World says the majority of anthems are at least double the length of time of the British anthem.

He notes that Uruguay and Chile's national anthems are well over five minutes, with Uruguay being the World's longest at 105 bars. This seems to be a feature of the region.

"With some of the South American anthems they are almost like mini operas, they are very long," says Bristow. "So most of them have a chorus as well as a verse so you have a situation where you would have a verse, and obviously it's not complete if you don't have a chorus which follows on straight away."

He adds if the unofficial version of Greece's national anthem were played in full, he estimates it would take over three hours to listen to, as it has 158 verses.

Cut short

Image caption Unlike the Queen, junior royals are only played half a verse of God Save the Queen

Others aren't so drawn out - Uganda's anthem is listed by Bristow as the shortest at eight bars. Sheppard had to repeat it three times to reach a minute.

Bristow points out that Hamilton and others wanting more than a verse should count themselves lucky as he says protocol dictates that junior royals only get half of that.

Meanwhile, Sheppard suggests that Lewis Hamilton might want to look to the national anthem of Monaco, the spiritual home of many racing drivers, which he says is very "upbeat". However, the Olympic version is 10 seconds shorter than God Save the Queen.