'and here is the shipping forecast issued by the Met. Office'
Words that many of us have heard as we toss on the high seas, and for those who have drawn the short straw, rudely awakened in their bunk at 0520 hours as the chosen crew member to note down the forecast for the day ahead, the words prompt a frenzied search for torch, pen and paper. Then comes the responsibility of making the decision, to wake the crew or let them sleep on a little longer hoping that the next few hours will improve.
The BBC broadcast its first weather forecast in 1922 and its first shipping forecast in 1924. It is broadcast four times each day on BBC Radio 4 and covers the next 24 hours.
- 0048 on FM and LW
- 0520 on FM and LW
- 1201 normally only on LW
- 1754 on LW on weekdays but FM and LW at weekends
Each bulletin contains 350 words and is read with clear diction and at a slow, measured pace to aid those who wish to write the information down. It always follows the same format.
Gale Warnings - a listing of all sea areas where gale warnings are in operation
General Synopsis - an account of the development and movement of depressions and anticyclones, and of fronts affecting sea areas around the British Isles and North West Europe.
Sea Area Forecasts - The waters around the British Isles are divided into 31 sea areas. Some Sea Areas are grouped together but always follow the same order which is clockwise around the British Isles, beginning with Viking to the North East and ending with South East Iceland. The forecast gives expected wind directions, Beaufort forces and changes, the weather and the visibility.
Actual Weather Observations - information obtained from various 'Coastal Stations' situated around the British Isles including wind, weather, visibility and barometric pressure.
Weather forecasts are crucial for both sailors and airmen with latest information of extreme importance for both comfort and safety. Operators can reroute or delay ships and aircraft to avoid severe weather while amateurs and holiday makers can postpone a trip or alter their destination remembering the well known adage 'you never sail to a destination, you always sail towards it'
The Voice of the Shipping Forecast
The man who became the 'voice of the Shipping Forecast' for 40 years, was Peter Jefferson. And yet for all his reports of gales and fog from SE Iceland to Trafalgar, he was no seafaring man. To quote him 'I don't sail, I don't even swim'. When he first started doing the forecast in 1969 he had no particular interest in the weather and reading the forecast was just one of his duties as an announcer. But as the years passed, what began as an incidental part of his job became the thing he is now forever associated with. Jefferson's voice has provided reassurance and vital information for longer than any other announcer, having delivered the forecast for almost half its 89 years history. Sadly Jefferson was ignominiously sacked in September 2009, after using the f-word on the air, when he thought his microphone was switched off.
Occasionally mistakes occur when reading the forecast. For example on Friday 17th August 2007, the 0520 forecast and data was in fact that for the previous day and a special reading of the correct day's forecast was given out at 0700 before rejoining the normal programme. This has occurred on other occasions and, when noticed, a repeat forecast is generally transmitted in a diversion from the advertised schedule.
Influences on popular culture
Due to its evocative names, set rhythm and calm enunciation, the Shipping Forecast can sound very poetic when broadcast, so it is not surprising that it has featured in songs and poetry as a result. Popular artists have used samples of the Shipping Forecast in lyrics for songs and as a background for evocative music. There is also a three-bell change method named 'Shipping Forecast Singles' which was rung as a peal in 2004 at St John Baptist, Middleton, Warwickshire.
The Shipping Forecast has also inspired writing, painting and photographic collections and their success is a tribute not only to the time and expertise of the artists but also to the warmth which the public regard this regular radio announcement.
Many parodies have been written and performed. Frank Muir and Denis Norden wrote a song for an episode of Take it from here, Dead Ringers used Brian Perkins rapping the forecast and Stephen Fry used his own shipping forecast in the first episode of Saturday Night Fry. In an episode of the Radio 4 series Live on arrival, Steve Punt read a version of the shipping forecast in which the regions were replaced with supermarket names. But probably the most well known version was broadcast at 0048 on Saturday 19th March 2011 when the area forecasts were delivered by John Prescott to raise awareness of Red Nose Day 2011. Prescott slipped deliberately into his distinctive Humberside accent - 'Umber - without the H, as we say it up there.'
Films and television have included shipping forecasts, notably Distant Voices, Still Lives, which opens with a forecast from the 1940s. Hyacinth Bucket asks for a shipping forecast in Keeping up Appearances, even though their yacht is moored on the Thames near Oxford. All the characters in the ITV cartoon The adventures of Portland Bill were named after shipping areas or coastal weather stations, with the exceptions of Eddy Stone and Ross and a recording of part of the forecast was played over the credits of Rick Stein's 2000 TV series Rick Stein's Seafood Lover's Guide.
These days you can get forecasts on TV, newspapers, websites and on your mobile phone..let us hope that it will survive on the radio and that for as long as we want to use the waters around our coasts there will always be the Shipping Forecast to help those venturing out to sea.
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