A twat, a sprat and a whale help 'Today' lose the plot

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The Independent Online
The Today programme lost the plot yesterday as a twat, a Sprat and a 40ft sperm whale cut a swathe of hilarity through the presenters of the BBC's most serious news programme.

The trouble started with an item in the 8am news bulletin from Papua New Guinea where the government has appointed General Jack Tuat as chief of staff to calm troops following the furore over its use of mercenaries.

Unfortunately Mr Tuat's name is pronounced "twat". Immediately after the report about Mr Tuat's promotion, Charlotte Green, Radio 4's experienced news reader and continuity announcer, had to read a report about the 40ft sperm whale stuck in the Firth of Forth. The clash of the two items proved too much for her and after a few words her report on Moby the whale disappeared in a fit of giggles.

Once Ms Green had struggled through the short item she handed over to presenter James Naughtie who, it has to be said, sounds a more humourous chap anyway. Poor Mr Naughtie was then faced with a very serious story about the escape tunnel discovered at the Maze prison in Belfast. Waiting on the line was a very angry spokesman from the Northern Ireland Prison Officers' Association. Unfortunately, the POA spokesman's name was Mr Findlay Spratt.

Now we are sure that Mr Spratt is a very serious and important man - and that James Naughtie thinks so too - but unfortunately after Ms Green's giggles, Mr Naughtie balked at the name on his prompt sheet and could not help a guffaw himself.

However, Mr Naughtie did call him Mr Spratt, as a careful listening to a tape of the programme later proved, even if up and down the country millions were convinced Naughtie had actually welcomed a Mr Prat.

A BBC spokesman said later that he would not want anyone to suggest the presenters' professionalism was anything but total. These things happen, he said.

Ms Green is one of the BBC's most familiar voices. Her precision and clarity are required for slots such as the Shipping Forecast, where mariners' lives may be on the line.

She famously managed to keep a straight voice even when required to introduce the cast of a Radio 4 play called Heartache: "Richard Griffiths as the Brain, Lee Montague as the Heart, Jim Broadbent as the Stomach, and David de Keyser as the Penis". However, yesterday was not the first time she has shown a capacity for hysterics.

She was one of the highlights of Radio 4's News Quiz last year, on which she reads out panellists' cuttings, when Alan Coren ambushed her by reading out her announcement of "a cross-flannel cherry" being grounded on a sand bank.

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