Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Shipping Forecast... more than just bad weather

Call me weird (many often do) but for me, BBC Radio 4's Shipping Forecast is not just about weather... good or bad... it is also always a singularly wonderful, emotive and nostalgic experience to listen to!

The Shipping Forecast is a four-times-daily BBC radio broadcast of weather reports and forecasts for the seas around the coasts of the British Isles. It is produced by the UK Meteorological Office (part of the Ministry of Defence) and broadcast by BBC Radio 4 on behalf of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (part of the Department for Transport). (These forecasts are also sent over the Navtex system using a similar format and the same sea areas).

There are four Shipping Forecasts broadcasts per day:

  • 0048 - transmitted on FM and LW. Includes weather reports from an extended list of coastal stations at 0052 and an inshore waters forecast at 0055 and concludes with a brief UK weather outlook for the coming day. The broadcast finishes at approximately 0058, and is followed by a short goodnight message and the National Anthem.

  • 0520 - transmitted on FM and LW. Includes weather reports from a coastal stations at 0525, and an inshore waters forecast at 0527.

  • 1201 - normally transmitted on longwave only.

  • 1754 - transmitted on longwave only on weekdays, as an opt-out from the PM programme, but at weekends transmitted on both FM and Longwave.

The Shipping Forecast - A Distinctive Appeal

Because of its unique and distinctive sound, the broadcasts have an appeal beyond those solely interested in nautical weather!

The waters around the British Isles are divided into sea areas, also known as weather areas (see map above) such as Forties, Cromarty, Forth, Tyne, Dogger, Fisher, German Bight, Humber, Thames, Dover, Wight, etc.

Many listeners find the well-known repetition of the names of the sea areas almost hypnotic, particularly during the bedtime (for Britain) broadcast at 0048 GMT.

Like me, many listeners regard these broadcasts with affection. In Great Britain the Shipping Forecast often comes up in general knowledge quizzes and is the butt of many affectionate jokes. It is also a subject that has often influenced many in popular culture. Due to its set rhythm, calm enunciation, and evocative names, the Shipping Forecast can sound quite poetic when broadcast and it is perhaps not surprising that it has featured in songs and poetry as a result. Artists as diverse as Radiohead, film director Terence Davies and poet Seamus Heaney have used it as literal and metaphoric inspiration.

You can enjoy the hypnotic quality of the Shipping Forecast in this very emotive (well it is to me) video here:

‘Sailing By’ Theme

In addition to the broadcast, one of the Shipping Forecast's intrinsic attractions is without doubt the beautiful and very calming theme tune, ‘Sailing By’. Played as a prelude, ‘Sailing By’ was composed by Ronald Binge and acts as a bridge between the end of regular BBC Radio 4 programming and the broadcast itself.

Jarvis Cocker, lead singer of British band Pulp, chose ‘Sailing By’ as one of his Desert Island Discs when appearing on the programme.

If you've never heard ‘Sailing By’, you can listen to it here... it's the first track of this video. If you are familiar with it, you will hopefully enjoy losing yourself for a moment in this beautifully calming, nostalgic and lovely piece of music... enjoy!

The end of this piece of music is normally followed by the BBC's time signal... the 'pip... pip.. pip...', followed then by the Shipping Forecast. Pity I couldn't find this properly reproduced on YouTube! sad

You may well be forgiven for wondering why the music is set to a background of the TV 'Test Card' and the CEEFAX page. Well, apparently, 'Sailing By' was also the title track of this CEEFAX AM tape which was in service between March 1983 and the summer of 1984 on BBC1 in the stand-alone slot pre-Breakfast Time. I chose this particularly video because it is the one that more faithfully replicates the Shipping Forecast's current theme music.

A different 'take' on the Shipping Forecast

Now... a slightly different and, for me, hysterically funny 'take' on the Shipping Forecast:

BBC Radio 4's Brian Perkins read Les Barker's version of 'The Shipping Forecast' from 'Guide Cats for the Blind'; a series of three CD's released to help raise funds for The British Computer Association of the Blind.

Fans of the 'Shipping Forecast' might also like to check out Charlie Connelly's excellent book 'Attention All Shipping'.


BBC > Weather Centre > Coast and Sea > Shipping Forecast

The Shipping Forecast - Information from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The BBC Shipping Forecast: A Unique Broadcasting Experience by Radio 4