George Cowling: Britain's first television weatherman

Before magnetic clouds, satellite technology, hi-tech graphics and colour television brought more pizzazz to forecasts on screen, a 32-year-old Yorkshireman who worked for the Meteorological Office became the BBC's first on-screen weather presenter. George Cowling stepped in front of the camera at 7.55pm on 11 January 1954. Even though he delivered the forecast in a traditional, BBC style, long before weather presenters adopted a more chatty, informal manner, Cowling was able to turn the scientific explanations into human reality by telling viewers that high winds would make the following day a good one for hanging out washing.

Located in a small corner of the BBC's Lime Grove announcer's studio, he used two hand-drawn charts pinned to a blackboard - showing the weather for "today" and "tomorrow" - and had a pair of dividers for measuring isobar spacing to give wind speeds. "We used charcoal sticks to demonstrate wind directions, rain areas etc on the maps and the charcoal dust covered our sweaty hands and clothes," Cowling recalled of his experience in a studio that became intensely hot because of the amount of lighting needed for the cameras. He also established a tradition for ending the forecasts, explaining: "I said what everyone else says - 'That's it from me.'"

This presentation, in those days of black and white television, replaced the BBC's previous practice of showing a weather chart on screen accompanied by captions, which had been introduced daily in 1949. The new, four-and-a-half-minute format also began the day's programmes - which did not start until 8pm - instead of ending them and the extra time meant that, in the words of Radio Times, "the forecaster will show how the weather expected tomorrow is conditioned by the weather experienced today".

Cowling and the BBC's other original forecaster, the 42-year-old Londoner Tom Clifton, were variously referred to by the press as "the two Mr C's", "Mr Wet and Mr Dry" and "Mr Shower and Mr Shine". When Princess Margaret visited the studio, Cowling informed her that he had bad news for viewers - severe frost was forecast. "That's good news," she replied. "I love the cold weather." After a brief pause, he retorted: "Perhaps, Ma'am, you don't suffer from frozen pipes, like the rest of us."

Born in 1921, the son of a newspaper compositor, Cowling joined the Met Office - owned by the Ministry of Defence - in 1939. He was a meteorological assistant stationed with No. 4 Bomber Group RAF in Yorkshire, providing forecasts for the RAF in England, Normandy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany.

Cowling was transferred to the London Weather Centre in December 1953 and began presenting the television forecasts the following month. Each evening, he or Tom Clifton would transport their charts by Tube from Kingsway in central London to the Lime Grove Studios in Shepherd's Bush, west London. After a short time, they were joined by John Parry and Philip McAllen, establishing a team of four weather presenters.

It is interesting that the Corporation should "put a face" to the weather before it did the same with news bulletins. That did not happen until the following year when, spurred on by the forthcoming arrival of ITN as ITV's news provider, it decided that its newsreaders should finally be seen in vision - although initially unnamed. Until that first appearance by Kenneth Kendall, the BBC had allowed its long history in radio to blinker itself to the possibilities of a visual medium.

Cowling's own time in the medium was short. He left in February 1957, when promotion saw him transferred to RAF Bomber Command, working in Singapore, Malta, Bahrain and Germany. He subsequently became a senior instructor at the Met Office College and worked as principal forecaster at Heathrow Airport.

Following his retirement from the Met Office in 1981, Cowling spent five years as a meteorology and oceanography consultant for the marine engineering firm Noble Denton. In 2004, he joined other BBC forecasters to mark the 50th anniversary of television weather presenting.

Anthony Hayward

George Cowling, meteorologist and television weather presenter: born Leeds 2 March 1921; married (one son); died 24 December 2009.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
video
Life and Style
tech
Sport
Jodie Stimpson crosses the finishing line to win gold in the women's triathlon
Commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
News
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan stars as Christian Grey in the Fifty Shades of Grey movie
filmFirst look at Jamie Dornan in Fifty Shades of Grey trailor
Life and Style
Phillips Idowu, Stella McCartney and Jessica Ennis
fashionMcCartney to continue designing Team GB Olympics kit until 2016
Sport
Shinji Kagawa and Reece James celebrate after the latter scores in Manchester United's 7-0 victory over LA Galaxy
football
Sport
Farah returns to the track with something to prove
Commonwealth games
Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Biomass Sales Consultant

£20000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitment Company...

Java Developer

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My Client are a successful software hous...

Senior Analyst - Financial Modelling

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: This really is a fantastic chance to joi...

MS Dynamics NAV/Navision Developer

£45000 - £53000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: **MS DYNAMICS N...

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game