|Shipping Forecast Areas in the mid 1970s|
The BBC has been providing a shipping forecast since 1925. For years it has been a fixture on the long wave in the Light Programme, Radio 2 and Radio 4. It is, perhaps, only since coming to moor in the Radio 4 berth that the forecast has taken on this wider significance.
With the technology available to those at sea is the forecast still necessary? One suspects that there would be a public outcry and questions in the House if such a move where contemplated. “It’s just become part of the BBC fabric. We get lots of letters about how we read, but these aren’t people from ships, they’re usually people miles even from the coast. But we certainly don’t want it to end…”
Closely associated with the Shipping Forecast is the orchestral piece Sailing By. This has been used by Radio 4 since it started transmitting the forecast in 1978 to help fill the gap between the end of the news and the start of the forecast. Throughout the 60s and 70s the final forecast of the day followed the last news bulletin and 12:02 a.m. or 02:02 a.m. when broadcast hours were extended; in the mid-70s this changed to 12:33 a.m. when the hours were reduced again.
When Radio 4 took over 1500m long wave the midnight news was followed by “an interlude” and then the shipping and inshore forecast at 12:15 a.m. It was Sailing By that filled that interlude. The tune had been used on the radio before in Tony Brandon's midday show on Radio 2 as background music to his daily gardening spot with a character called Ebeneezer Growmore.
The Shipping Forecast doesn’t have quite the same poetry when read by John Prescott as part of this year’s Comic Relief fundraising. This is how John read the 12:48 a.m. forecast earlier today on Radio 4.
To hear the full shipping and inshore forecast read by John Prescott and Alice Arnold click here to download.
For the "rules" of the Shipping Forecast visit the Met Office website.
Quotes sourced from, in order:
‘Life On Air:A History of Radio 4’ by David Hendy
Zeb Soanes, Radio 4 announcer in ‘Radio Times’ 11 December 2010
Jane Watson, former Radio 4 announcer as quoted in ‘Attention All Shipping’ by Charles Connelly
‘And now on Radio 4’ by Simon Elmes