Letters: Mumbled and muffled TV drama

These letters appear in the Thursday 24th April edition of the Independent

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The sound quality on episode two of the BBC’s Jamaica Inn was no better than the previous night’s opening instalment (report, 23 April). The standard of diction is appalling, but that is only a part of the problem. Intrusive background music makes the situation even worse.

Sadly Jamaica Inn is far from unique in the dire quality of its sound reproduction. We will probably never return to the days of received pronunciation setting the standard. However, programme producers should realise that their first priority is to communicate to the viewer and listener.

Mike Stroud, Swansea


I was interested in the criticism of the sound quality of the BBC’s new drama Jamaica Inn as I had been oblivious that it was particularly poor. This is because I watched the programme with the subtitles switched on, something I have done regularly when watching TV dramas since I was obliged to give up my old cathode ray TV and switch to a flat screen digital TV because of the cessation of analogue transmissions.

The old TV with its large cabinet was able to accommodate a substantial, forward-facing speaker. I haven’t quite worked out where the speakers are in my flat-screen TV, but they must be very small to fit within the casing and, oddly, about 50 per cent of the sound seems to radiate backwards from the set and is therefore effectively lost. An attempt to improve the situation by plugging in a good quality supplementary speaker has met with mixed results as it tends to over-amplify the base frequencies and produce a booming effect.

Whereas I think there is an issue nowadays with actors mumbling, the situation is clearly not being helped by poor quality sound reproduction in today’s TV sets.

A salesman in an electrical store said to me recently that he viewed the current generation of TV sets as “intermediate technology” because manufacturers had focused on picture quality and had given little thought to sound reproduction. 

Peter Ankers, London E14


The Cornish social media has been alive with complaints about the casting and dialogue in Jamaica Inn. The actors can’t pronounce Cornish place names, the accents were very “East of Tamar” and the sentence constructions were more Anglo than Cornish. The poor sound transmission made matters worse.

Why is such “Black and White minstrel” depiction of us Cornish seen as acceptable? Daphne du Maurier herself came to know the Cornish well and supported the forerunner of Mebyon Kernow. She would have been appalled.

Tim James, Penzance


Having watched episode one of Jamaica Inn on Monday evening, I was surprised when reading your review that there was no mention of the appalling sound quality or mumbling actors. Just me then?

Apparently not, as you report that the BBC has had to apologise following hundreds of complaints. I can cancel that appointment for a hearing aid then.

Linda Watson, Epsom, Surrey


What will happen to A-level sciences?

Glenys Stacey (letter, 16 April) is right that there are some problems with the way in which practical work is assessed. However, it is hard to see how Ofqual’s changes to A-levels in the sciences will “place practical skills back at the heart of teaching”.

What is undoubtedly the case is that those changes remove practical work from the heart of assessment. At A-level, the direct assessment of practical work will now be reported separately from the main grade and, at AS-level, there will be no direct assessment of practical work.

A student can get an A* in physics (and the other sciences) without touching a single piece of apparatus. This major overhaul is being implemented against the advice that Ofqual received in its consultation. 

It is unlikely that the new system will solve the assessment problem it is trying to address. And I doubt that it will even sustain, let alone increase, the amount of practical work carried out by A-level students.

These doubts are shared by Ofqual’s chair, Amanda Spielman, who was reported as saying that Ofqual can “make adjustments very early in the life cycle of the qualifications” if they damage practical work. This “let’s give it a go” approach is not helpful for students, teachers, the subjects or the standing of A-levels.

Charles Tracy, Head of Education, Institute of Physics, London W1


University ignores city

“I have absolutely no contact with the town. I only ever go to the library.”  This comment attributed to a Cambridge academic (“Has the Cambridge I knew turned its back on me?”, 19 April) exemplifies similar indifference expressed by Durham University staff. The City of Durham, with its landmark cathedral, serves simply as a convenient backdrop to a “world-class” university. 

As the final stage of the County Durham Local Plan approaches, the city is to be turned into an “economic powerhouse”, with a new business centre, 4,000 houses on Green Belt sites and two relief roads. City residents witness the erosion of a balanced community, as increasing numbers of residential streets are deserted for upwards of three months in the year. Over 60 per cent of the student population choose to “live out”, eschewing the widely proclaimed collegiate experience of Durham.

Apparently it is of no interest to the university authorities that the wellbeing of the local community is undermined by the loss of so many terrace houses to student lets. Effective liaison with the council planners in order to manage the provision of student accommodation is lacking.

As we are constantly told, “ The university is a business,” and therefore there is no need to contact the local community, and no need to question the logic of sacrificing Green Belt land for residential development, so that more students can occupy city-centre family houses, leaving them empty for part of the year.

Christina Thomas, Friends of Durham Green Belt, Durham


Wrong base for the Scottish navy

Alex Orr (letter, 17 April) says: “The only way Scotland will be able adequately to defend itself is through independence, with stronger armed forces north of the border.”

He appears to base his case on the SNP Government White Paper. This says that “Faslane will become the main operating base for the Scottish Navy”.In defence terms, what a daft idea. Defending North Sea oil platforms from terrorists will be a vital task. But Faslane, in the west, is as far as one could get from the North Sea.

My guess is that this plan has nothing much to do with security but is aimed at getting a Yes vote in Helensburgh and Rhu (population 15,500) whose economy is utterly dependent on Faslane (6,700 workers) six miles up the road.

Hugh Pennington, Aberdeen


The old basis of Scottish nationalism was hostility to and resentment of England, more powerful, bigger. This is cleverly augmented by Alex Salmond citing “Westminster” as the cause of all Scotland’s ills.

If Scotland separates, the egos that thought they did not get their due in the UK think they will in the tinier state. This applies to a swathe of officials and small businesses as well as politicians. Small means lesser challenges. But we Scots thrive on challenge, so separation would stunt the mind as well as the economy.

Rosemary Morton, Edinburgh


What the Liberal Democrats are for

David Ashton asks what Liberal Democrats are for (letter, 16 April). As I tell every school at which I speak, Liberal Democrats are for Freedom, Fairness, Green, and International. Whether it’s human rights and the rule of law or the welfare state, they all come from liberalism and its uniquely broad and humane perspective. 

Standing up for these values in an age of increasing intemperance will continue to be the historic mission for the party, whether in or out of government. I suspect that most of Mr Ashton’s neighbours in Sheringham also value this strand of British politics, which is why they will continue to return the excellent Norman Lamb as their MP.

Sandy Walkington, St Albans, Hertfordshire


Ukip’s ‘uniform Europe’ scare

Mary Lees writes that the aim of the EU is to promote “awful uniformity” (letter, 23 April). What does she mean? Some uniformity is a good thing: knowing that the emergency telephone number is 112 wherever you are (even in the UK ) is a good thing. But does she really imagine that it’s the aim of the EU to make all 28 countries the same? Even if it were, having visited about a dozen of them I think it highly unlikely this would ever happen. Such nonsense is what Ukip thrives on.

Ian K Watson, Carlisle