Leading article: Time out

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The Independent Online

So: "At the third stroke the time sponsored by Accurist will be ... time for a change." Brian Cobby, the voice of the speaking clock for the past two decades, is to retire. Next month there will be a public competition run by Children in Need to choose a new voice to inform the nation of the time over the telephone.

Eras end all the time. But with 70 million calls received by the speaking clock every year, this is certainly one worth marking. Mr Cobby is only the third ever voice for the clock since it began in July 1936. That is bound to cause an element of confusion for some when the handover (or should that be "voiceover"?) takes place. Spare a thought in particular for the woman introduced to Mr Cobby at a party who, on being told that she was meeting the voice of the speaking clock, inquired: "But how are they coping without you?"

So a time for sadness, but also, we feel, an opportunity. When Mr Cobby was chosen in a similar competition in 1985, it was still widely believed that the voice needed to be schooled in Received Pronunciation. Now such linguistic conservatism for those in public life is old hat. Huw Edwards, for example, is one of our most respected newsreaders. We are told that the new voice could have a regional accent. But which one?

Lenny Henry briefly became the clock's voice in March 2003 for Comic Relief. So Dudley has had its turn. A Scottish schoolgirl was given a go later that year. Cockney vowels are over-represented in the media already. To our mind, that leaves a straight contest between the North-west, the North-east and the West Country. May the most mellifluous tones win.