Bert Foord

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Herbert Vernon Foord, meteorologist: born Brough, Cumbria 22 December 1930; married 1954 Irene Young (one daughter); died Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire 31 July 2001.

The launch of Apollo 12 on 14 November 1969 was eagerly anticipated, following the previous American space mission's first Moon walks by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. So it was a shock to many when the spacecraft, watched by President Richard Nixon on a cold, cloudy and wet day, was struck twice by lightning as it took off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Fortunately, a young flight controller at Mission Control in Houston issued the command to flick a switch that would restore Apollo 12's electrical data and Pete Conrad, the third man on the Moon and the first to be seen in colour, was able to remark as he stepped out of the craft five days later: "Whoopee! Man, that may have been a small one for Neil, but it's a long one for me."

Although the lightning strikes had provided drama for millions who watched on television around the world, they had been predicted by the weather forecaster Bert Foord during the BBC's coverage of the build-up to the mission.

Foord was a no-nonsense presenter who represented the BBC's traditional approach to news and weather, with personalities not allowed to overshadow the content. Indeed, the attitude – nurtured during the days when BBC radio newsreaders wore dinner jackets – was that they should stay in the background and be little more than voices relaying the information.

Even the successful combination of personality and authority pioneered by ITN when it launched Britain's commercial television news service in the 1950s did not convince the BBC to modify its style until much later.

Foord, who was suitably sober in both his presentation and dress, was born in Cumbria in 1930, the son of a sailor, and joined the Meteorological Office in 1947 after being educated at Appleby Grammar School. On completing his training, he served at Eskdalemuir Observatory (1950-53), then braved the gales to compile and transmit data aboard Atlantic weather ships, before joining the BBC in 1963 as its 15th "weatherman".

Until 1954, weather reports on the BBC had simply been read by announcers from information supplied by the Met Office. Then, it was decided that the weather maps and charts should be accompanied on screen by a professional Met Office forecaster. The first two were the Yorkshireman George Cowling and the Londoner T.H. Clifton. (A year later, BBC newsreaders were seen in vision for the first time, shortly before ITN introduced "newscasters" to British television audiences.)

As well as presenting regular forecasts, Foord contributed to the BBC's coverage of American space missions and, shortly before the launch of Apollo 12, warned of the possibility of lightning in the vicinity. Although not allowed to project his own personality during weather forecasts, Foord – known off screen as having a good sense of humour – became a household name and made guest appearances in programmes such as Points of View and on radio in Late-Night Line-Up and Desert Island Discs. He also relished the chance to play King Lear in BBC television's satirical series Celebrity Shakespeare.

During his time with the Met Office, as a representative of the Institution of Professionals, Managers and Specialists (IPMS) union, he helped to improve pay and conditions for staff. In 1968, he succeeded in raising BBC forecasters' rates from £3 to £4 10s a day. "I spend between 30 and 40 guineas on a television suit," he said. "You need about 20 shirts for television."

In 1974, after 11 years, Foord had to leave the BBC on his civil service promotion from higher to senior scientific officer and subsequently worked as an airfield weather forecaster for the RAF in the Maldives, then Germany. In 1984, he became principal forecaster with Headquarters Strike Command, based in an underground bunker near High Wycombe. He retired from the Met Office in 1990, after 43 years' service.

Anthony Hayward

Comments