Time waits for no man, and the voice of the speaking clock is no exception

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The Independent Online

It was an exemplar of the Queen's finely spoken English and now the actor's voice that was the Speaking Clock for 21 years is to be replaced by a member of the public.

Today, to mark the BT clock reaching its 70th year, a competition has been launched to find the new modern voice of the Speaking Clock. At present, when you dial 123, you will hear the time delivered by Brian Cobby, in Received Pronunciation, like his predecessors Jane Cain and Pat Simmons. Now the 77-year-old former Shakespearean actor from Brighton, who was the clock's first male voice, is retiring from the post, allowing a member of the public to become the fourth permanent voice of the Speaking Clock.

Looking back to his appointment in 1985, Mr Cobby said: "They wanted a voice that was warm, clear and with no strong regional accent which I don't think will apply this time. It will be a man or a woman, a regional accent or a rap artist. I should think they want a change. My voice is too posh."

As one of the judges in the competition, Mr Cobby described the voice they would be looking for as "warm, clear, with some sort of character or personality".

Applicants are invited to leave telephone recordings of their voice with the proceeds of each call going to Children in Need. The winner will be announced on BBC1's Children in Need night on 17 November.

A spokesman for the competition said: "The contest is open to young and old, to male or female, and to every accent. We have no preconceived ideas of how the new voice should sound."

Mr Cobby was chosen for the Speaking Clock role in a competition for BT employees, when he was working as a BT night operator. Out of 5,000 applicants, he became the sole male finalist alongside 11 women.

He said: "I have thoroughly enjoyed it. I never ring the Speaking Clock except at New Year, when I put it on speakerphone and have a little glass of champagne. This New Year's Eve will be my last one. I shall miss being the Speaking Clock, but I shall bow out graciously."

Mr Cobby has enjoyed fan mail and compliments on his voice - one from a radio presenter who said: "Brian Cobby's voice, it makes Brian Sewell sound like Hilda Ogden!"

The clock, which was launched on 24 July, 1936, is accurate to within five thousands of a second and Big Ben sets its time to its "third stroke". More than 70 million people call it each year.

The only other people to have voiced the Speaking Clock were comedian Lenny Henry in March 2003 and the Scottish schoolgirl Alicia Roland in October 2003, both for charity.

On the line

JANE CAIN
Voice: 1936-63
Lived: 1909-96
Occupation: Telephonist
Prize: 10 guineas in the Golden Voice competition

PAT SIMMONS
Voice: 1963-84
Lived: 1920-2005
Occupation: Telephione exchange supervisor
Prize: £500

BRIAN COBBY
Voice: 1985- present
Age: 77
Occupation: Actor and BT supervisor
Prize: £5,000

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