When a BBC announcer used fictional gale warnings to fill time

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I have just finished reading “The Shipping Forecast” by Nic Compton. The publisher, Ebury, sums the book up as follows:

The rhythmic lullaby of `North Utsire, South Utsire’ has been lulling the nation’s insomniacs to sleep for over 90 years. It has inspired songs, poetry and imaginations across the globe – as well as providing a very real service for the nation’s seafarers who might fall prey to storms and gales. In 1995, a plan to move the late-night broadcast by just 12 minutes caused a national outcry and was ultimately scrapped.

Published with Radio 4 and the Met Office, The Shipping Forecast is the official miscellany for seafarers and armchair travellers alike.

From the places themselves – how they got their names, what’s happened there through the ages – to the poems and parodies that it’s inspired, this is a beautifully evocative tribute to one of Britain’s – and Radio 4’s – best-loved broadcasts.

It is a great book, enlivened by the comments of and about Radio 4 announcers.

Veteran Radio 4 announcer and newsreader, Eugene Fraser pops up quite a lot. He was a wonderful announcer with a fantastic voice. Interestingly, despite the posh Oxford accent, he is Polynesian and was born in Fiji. His son is the playwright Toa Fraser.

Anyway, it appears that old Eugene, described as “the ultimate Shipping Forecast legend” had some party tricks. Number one is described by announcer Andrew Crawford 1988-99:

(He alternated) line of shipping forecast (fader open) with stages of a shaggy dog story (fader closed). It used to generate quite an audience hoping he’d muck it up. Legend has it that he never did.

Eugene Fraser also used to set light to Shipping Forecast scripts while someone else was reading them. One of his victims was Peter Donaldson who, apparently, managed to read the whole forecast without missing a beat, despite it disappearing into flames while he read it.

But my favourite is this one of Eugene’s glorious party tricks as described by Catriona Chase, Radio 4 announcer 1988-93:

(He) had a tendency to regard gale warnings as convenient “fill” material. I once saw him back-announce a programme, look at the clock and then realise there was still half a minute to go before the pips. Without batting an eyelid, he launched into an entirely fictitious “warning of gales” complete with invented wind strength and speed, finishing with a portentous “expected soon”. He didn’t specify a sea area, and I imagined ships all over the world frantically scanning their horizons and wondering if the storm was headed their way.

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