Newsreader who turned an obituary into a giggling fit

Radio 4's Today programme has long been known for its sober presentation of the morning's news, crisply delivered by famously unflappable broadcasters as the nation munches on its cereal.

At least, that was the case until yesterday morning, when a mischievous producer whispered into the ear of the newsreader, Charlotte Green, as she was listening to an ancient recording of a French folk song. What followed at 8.09am was a memorable case of corpsing – the uncontrollable fit of on-air giggles that is every broadcaster's worst nightmare.

Ms Green's breaking point came after listeners had been treated to a rendition of "Au Clair de la Lune" from 1860, which was described as the first recording of a human voice. When a BBC employee likened the scratchy recording to a "bee trapped in a jar" to Ms Green off-air, it triggered barely suppressed hysteria as she attempted to move on and read the next item – the death of the Oscar-winning screenwriter, Abby Mann, on live radio.

Listen to Charlotte Green get the giggles

Courtesy of the BBC

Ms Green tried to compose herself by saying "Excuse me, I'm sorry", but collapsed back into laughter soon after. Her corpsing spread, with the news presenter, James Naughtie, struggling to suppress his chuckles while introducing the next report at 8.10am about the danger that Iraq may be sliding into civil war.

Reflecting on her breakdown afterwards, Ms Green said some of the blame lay with colleagues, Ed Stourton and Mr Naughtie, claiming their reaction had fuelled her hilarity. "Jim and Ed were laughing so much I started laughing too. We had this ancient recording. I hadn't heard it yet but I was told it was supposed to be someone singing 'Au Clair de la Lune'.

"Someone in the studio remarked it sounded like a bee trapped in jar and I just lost it. I get on really well with Ed and Jim and we are always setting each other off. I was ambushed by the giggles and once I started I found it very hard to stop. In fact the harder I tried, the worse it got.

"Unfortunately the next piece I was supposed to be doing was an obituary. I'm very sorry to the family of Abby Mann, I honestly meant no disrespect by it."

The newsreader, who has appeared on the morning show for 20 years, added that lack of sleep because of the 6am start often led to hysterical behaviour in the studio, sometimes on air. "This is not the first time I've had a giggling fit. There was a Today bulletin about 10 years ago, again with Jim, involving a Papua New Guinean colonel called Jack Tuat. Unfortunately you pronounce his name with a 'w' instead of 'u'."

After Ms Green's loss of composure, Mr Stourton said the programme had been inundated with calls, with some listeners thinking she had been in tears during the obituary. He later explained she had been put off by the recording and was then distracted after a member of staff whispered in her ear.

The programme's editor, Ceri Thomas, said most listeners had commented on "how much they had enjoyed the moment" and added: "When Charlotte loses it, she really loses it." Later on in the programme, her laughter was repeated to listeners as Mr Stourton remarked that they had been besieged with calls begging them to play it again.

On-air hysterics

*Ulrika Jonsson

As a fresh-faced weather girl, an inadvertent reference to sex left her helpless with laughter.

*Brian Johnston

An Ian Botham dismissal inspired the line that Beefy "just couldn't quite get his leg over", which made Johnston laugh. A lot.

*Fern Britton and Phillip Schofield

Cracked up over Paxman's pants.