No 37 in a series: The woman who auditions voices for BBC Radio.
"IF YOU can't remember what a voice sounds like, that probably means I've chosen the right voice for the airwaves."
The speaker (and a very nice voice it is too) is Eleanora Grebe, whose job it is to make sure that the voice fits the role on BBC radio. Does that mean that some voices would be no good for some roles?
"Of course. A man who sounds good reading the news would sound awful interviewing Gordon Brown, and vice versa. Think of all the programmes like PM and The World at One and Today, where the newsreaders are unhurried, and measured, and calmly statesmanlike, with slightly deep voices. Then think of the presenters, who are all slightly urgent, as if they thought that what they were saying was burning to be said, and are dying to get on with it. You could never have Brian Perkins interviewing anyone, as his questions would sound too complete to need an answer. By the same token you can't imagine John Humphrys reading the news. I don't think you'd really trust him. Oddly enough, people like Brian Perkins are also ideal when reading out very silly news cuttings on The News Quiz, as their measured, grave tones make the idiocy sound even more funny.
"Actually, the news is probably easier to read than the weather forecast, because the weather readers have to grasp your attenton much more. If your attention wavers from the news, and you miss the item about Jonathan Aitken or relaxation on the beef ban, then there's no harm done, because it was going to be boring anyway. But if you miss the forecast for your corner of the UK, you've missed out something vital to your life. So the weather men have to be crystal clear."
Would she call Ian McAskill clear? Some people can't make out a word he's saying.
"It's very important to have regional accents on the weather," says Eleanora Grebe, avoiding the question, "and it's also important to have a weather forecaster that Rory Bremner can imitate. Without McAskill, who could he do on the weather front?"
There seems to be a preponderance of Scottish accents when it comes to the regions. Is this to satisfy the touchy Scots ?
"Not really," says Eleanora Grebe. "In fact the Welsh are touchier than the Scots, and we should have more Welsh accents, but most of the men we employ who are proud of being Welsh, like John Humphrys, have unfortunately lost their Welsh accents. We have seriously considered trying to train him to get it back, but it's probably too late.
"One way in which we have contrived to placate the Scots is to place Scotland first in the weather forecast on Radio 4, so the Scots think they are getting preferential treatment. What they don't realise - and I'd rather you didn't mention this - is that first in the weather forecast is the worst place you can get, because nobody ever listens to the first bit of a forecast, on the grounds that they assume their home area will never be dealt with first."
What sort of voice is used for really weighty announcements? I mean, when war starts or when, God save us, the Queen Mother dies ?
"Oh, we have already sorted out who is going to announce the Queen Mum's death. In fact - and I'd rather you didn't mention this - it has already been recorded. All the announcements and the tributes are ready to roll.In fact, I am told that Jeremy Paxman - who, by the by, would be the worst person possible to announce the Queen Mum's death, because he would sound as if he were trying not to laugh - I am told that Jeremy Paxman has already recorded a special Newsnight item on her death, asking questions like `If you knew her death was on the cards, why wasn't something done about it and will heads roll?!?' "
Finally, after the Welsh and Scots, what about Irish voices? What is the BBC's current policy on Irish voices? Why was Gerry Anderson given the boot when he had such a nice voice? Is Sean Rafferty being inserted into Radio 3 to rival Henry Kelly's success on Classic FM ? Whither Terry Wogan? Whence Frank Delaney ? Is BBC radio being plastered with Irish accents the way pubs are turned into Irish theme pubs? What IS the BBC's policy?
"I'll tell you. Our policy is to encourage the Irish voice in all areas but one. We will never let an Irishman read the news."
Why not ?
"Because he would sound like EITHER Ian Paisley OR Gerry Adams .Think about it."
I do think about it. And it makes sense.