Tonight on Radio 2, Michael Fish will present a programme of reminiscences about the hugely destructive storm that devastated much of the south of England on the night of 15-16 October 1987. The bulk of the hour-long programme, Storm of the Century, which begins at 9.30pm, concerns the memories of those who found themselves in the thick of the worst weather to hit any heavily populated area of Britain in living memory. It will be the first few minutes, however, that will be most eagerly awaited. For one thing is firmly established in our communal memory of that terrible night: Michael Fish told us that it wasn't going to happen.
The facts, as they will be heard tonight, clearly identify poor old Fishy as a victim of appalling bad luck. Here are his words that closed the weather bulletin after the 1unchtime news:
"Earlier on today, a woman rang the BBC to say she had heard that there was a hurricane on the way. Well if you're watching, there isn't. But having said that, the weather will become very windy but most of the strong winds incidentally will be down over in Spain and across into France."
Tonight, he will make some telling points. First, that "the woman referred to was talking about a potential hurricane in Florida that had been mentioned in the news". Second, that the weather forecast he was making didn't even cover the period of the storm in England. Third, that "the Meteorological Office got it spectacularly wrong but I was only one of the messengers". Fourth, that the area of low pressure over the Bay of Biscay that eventually caused our high winds unexpectedly changed tack. And fifth, that we didn't have sustained winds above 74 mph and a sea temperature of 26C, so technically it was not a hurricane.
This may sound, to an untrained ear, like a pack of excuses: You didn't ask about that hurricane; I didn't have to tell you about it if I didn't want to; I told you it was going to be windy in Spain; it wasn't my fault anyway; the hurricane suddenly swerved in front of me; and it wasn't a hurricane anyway.
But he was phenomenally unlucky: why, on that night of all nights, did that silly lady get confused by a news report about a hurricane in Florida? Of all the daft bats in front of all the televisions in all the world, why did she choose to walk into his weather forecast on that particular afternoon?
The rest of the programme, which makes full use of a background of BBC whistling wind sound effects, is an excellent compilation of memories of that night when 19 people lost their lives, Kew Gardens lost 500 trees and the town of Sevenoaks was reduced to Oneoak. In Jerusalem, they even prayed for Sevenoaks, when a mistranslation led to news bulletins declaring that it had been wiped from the maps.
The greatest achievement of the programme, however, is to capture the unique feeling of that night, when perfectly rational fear was overtaken by something close to exhilaration and a spirit of adventure. The forces of nature in a bad mood arouse feelings of awe and wonder that nothing else can match. Though Michael Fish in a determinedly non-apologetic mood is quite a wonder too.Reuse content