Looking on the dull side

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England was heading for its dullest January yet and only last- minute sunshine yesterday looked set to stop the month beating an 80- year record.

There was an average of 0.8 hours' sunshine a day across England and Wales, compared to the record of 0.9 hours set in 1917. But it would only be the fourth gloomiest month on record, as the title of dullest goes to December 1939, with 0.12 hours of sun a day. Sunshine records in England and Wales began in 1909; those for Scotland and Northern Ireland are not kept the same way.

Yesterday the Meteorological Office said sunshine earlier in the day could mean January misses out on the record by a whisker. "This is the dullest January ever up to this point in the month. But there is only 0.1 of an hour difference in it, so if we have three or four hours' sunshine, that could change all that," a spokeswoman said.

The Met Office will not be able to confirm the January figures until today.

Across the Britain last month the dullest place was the Shetland Islands, which until 27 January had had a total of 1.8 hours of sunshine.