Saturday, 19 March 2011

The Shipping Forecast

Shipping Forecast Areas in the mid 1970s
It is often said that the reading of the Shipping Forecast is akin to the recital of a poem. There is both something in the pared down coded language “unfolding as it does in a mesmerizing incantation” and the image of “all those vulnerable little boats bobbing about at sea, reinforcing the romantic sense of being as island nation” that invokes this reverie.

The BBC has been providing a shipping forecast since 1925. For years it has been a fixture on the long wave in the Light Programme, Radio 2 and Radio 4. It is, perhaps, only since coming to moor in the Radio 4 berth that the forecast has taken on this wider significance.

With the technology available to those at sea is the forecast still necessary? One suspects that there would be a public outcry and questions in the House if such a move where contemplated. “It’s just become part of the BBC fabric. We get lots of letters about how we read, but these aren’t people from ships, they’re usually people miles even from the coast. But we certainly don’t want it to end…”

Closely associated with the Shipping Forecast is the orchestral piece Sailing By. This has been used by Radio 4 since it started transmitting the forecast in 1978 to help fill the gap between the end of the news and the start of the forecast. Throughout the 60s and 70s the final forecast of the day followed the last news bulletin and 12:02 a.m. or 02:02 a.m. when broadcast hours were extended; in the mid-70s this changed to 12:33 a.m. when the hours were reduced again.

When Radio 4 took over 1500m long wave the midnight news was followed by “an interlude” and then the shipping and inshore forecast at 12:15 a.m. It was Sailing By that filled that interlude. The tune had been used on the radio before in Tony Brandon's midday show on Radio 2 as background music to his daily gardening spot with a character called Ebeneezer Growmore.

The Shipping Forecast doesn’t have quite the same poetry when read by John Prescott as part of this year’s Comic Relief fundraising. This is how John read the 12:48 a.m. forecast earlier today on Radio 4.

Here from 1982 is a shipping forecast, inshore forecast and closedown read by Eugene Fraser. Back then sea area Viking had not been split up to include North and South Utsire and area Fitzroy was still called Finisterre.

Eugene Fraser was born in Fiji and educated in New Zealand where he worked on radio and television. He came to Britain in 1967 and joined the BBC as announcer and newsreader. Initially on Radios 1 and 2 he presented such shows as Night Ride, Friday Night is Music Night and Brass and Strings. In 1975 he moved to Radio Victory in Portsmouth. By 1978 he was back at the BBC, this time as announcer/newsreader on Radio 4. He left the station in the 1990s.

Peter Donaldson, former Chief Announcer at the network, recalls the story of his former announcer colleague Eugene Fraser who enjoyed playing practical jokes especially where the Shipping Forecast was concerned. “He used to come into the studio when you were reading [it] and set fire to the bottom. So you had to speed up to get to it before the fire did. He was the biggest practical joker there was, the most mischievous. But we did have fun in those days.”

For the "rules" of the Shipping Forecast visit the Met Office website. 

Quotes sourced from, in order:
Life On Air:A History of Radio 4 by David Hendy
Zeb Soanes, Radio 4 announcer in Radio Times 11 December 2010
Jane Watson, former Radio 4 announcer as quoted in Attention All Shipping by Charles Connelly
And now on Radio 4 by Simon Elmes


Chrissy Brand said...

Lovely post

Lorenzo said...

Ahhh nostalgia. Interesting post thanks

Unknown said...

As a Yank who became familiar with the Shipping Forecast due to "Mrs. Bale" on As Time Goes By, I have now been watching and listening to broadcasts of the Shipping Forecast. I can see how people become entranced by it. As a lover of the sea I appreciate the romance it imparts. Here we have automated voices reading the marine forecast on NOAA Weather Radio. Definitely not the same! Joan Stringer, Pottstown, PA, USA

yuksel said...

music so good

Gerent said...

Lovely to hear the voice of Eugene Fraser once more, my favourite announcer for many years.

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