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Being told off by James Naughtie

Alarm clock, 3:30 a.m.


3.30AM The alarm goes off, but it doesn't bother me. That's because I'm already staring at it. In fact, I've been staring at it on-and-off since about two o'clock, when I jolted awake after a horrible dream in which I overslept until half past seven, raced in to find Radio 4 on a loop of Sailing By and got told off by James Naughtie, the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and my old primary school teacher Miss Carruth. Still, it could have been worse. I could have been naked.

I drag myself out of bed, awash with relief and exhaustion, through the shower and into whatever clothes come to hand. Then I make a large flask of tea. This is a Very Important Task, as it will get me through the initial period from 5.20 - when I'll guide Radio 4 through the shipping forecast, News Briefing, Prayer for the Day and Farming Today - until 6.00 and the start of the flagship Today programme.

I arrive at work at around 4.30, read through News Briefing, tweak my scripts and do some timings. It's around now I notice I'm wearing jogging bottoms, a sequinned blouse and odd socks, and my hair is standing on end like a fright wig. Thank goodness it's radio.

Everything up to and including the Six O'Clock bulletin comes from a separate studio, so it's 6.25 before I join the mêlée in the main Today studio. I'm constantly amazed at how fresh the presenters look. (I'm beginning to think those muesli-yoghurt pots on the tea trolley that no one ever eats must be some kind of organic facial scrub.) The programme trail which runs before the news provides just enough time to say hello and machete my way through the mountain of newspapers that invariably engulfs my keyboard.

Once inside the Today studio, it's vital to stay focussed, for the distractions are legion. While you are reading there might be a sports or business presenter, Cabinet minister, religious figure, celebrity or other esteemed personage arriving or departing; someone could be making frantic signals for water, getting tangled in their headphones, rustling paper, whispering, wheezing, fumbling, rumbling or just having a jolly good stare. Well, it's not often you see someone in a sequinned blouse that time of the morning.

By the end of the shift, I have consumed my own body weight in carbohydrate but I'm still standing. Yes, the early starts are tough; but the payoff is being a part of one of the BBC's most prestigious and influential news programmes. It's like having a ringside seat at the most exciting show in town.

I hear they're planning a new webcam for the studio. Note to self: do something about fright wig.


  • Comment number 1.

    A couple of questions.

    1/ I don't really understand the point of having a pronunciation unit to ensure that you can pronounce Jean Charles de Menezes or Llanfairpwllgwyngyll correctly if, as a presenter, you are allowed to get away with pronouncing our currency as 'poynd' or saying 'hoy noy broyn coy'. You have a lovely voice, but either you are going to have proper pronunciation on the BBC, or you are not. I have a 'regional accent' myself, but what would be the point then of me going onto Radio 4 with all that pretentious 'Einshtein with an esh' nonsense ? Or any of the other multitudinous affectations which many BBC presenters have ?

    2/ Why on earth do many presenters insist on pronouncing 'Davies' to rhyme with 'laydeez' even when Welsh MPs are involved ? Either make the effort for everyone, or don't bother at all.

    I'd hate to go back to everyone having plummy accents, and a bit of variety is fine, but even Huw Edwards and John Humphrys 'standardise' their voices a bit for the BBC, although they may revert to type when they are at home.

  • Comment number 2.

    Dear lordBeddGelert

    Oh dear. I love radio 4, but sometimes when I read the rubbish a lot of my fellow listeners write, I'm ashamed to admit it. Get a life!

  • Comment number 3.

    Hear, hear perfectsix!

    It is a great thing that Radio 4, which does after all serve the whole of the UK, has a healthy complement from the Celtic (if not yet Nordic) fringes of its entire territory, and that the wide range of authentic "regional" (in some cases, arguably, national) voices can be heard. It is *far* more annoying to hear over-modified and tortured accents (of which there are a few amongst the regular cast on Radio 4), than those with authentic (if restrained) accents. (It is also, of course, good for us in these further flung parts to hear examples of those who naturally speak in the tones that used to be obligatory on the wireless, so let's hope that Peter Donaldson and his ilk do not fade too quickly into Announcer's Oblivion).

    Back to the 50s with you, LordBeddGelert!

    By the way: is the reason that Today presenters look so comparatively fresh (ooh, er, missus), that they are rarely called on in the same week to introduce Sailing By and the National Anthem, or read the news on The World at One?

    May I suggest a motto for Announcer's Week? "Let *all* the voices pause and read!!"

  • Comment number 4.

    If I may ask you directly, Kathy, do you prefer being told off by James, John, Jane or someone else entirely?

    "By the end of the shift, I have consumed my own body weight in carbohydrate but I'm still standing."

    Does this mean that you stand throughout the 'Today' programme, Kathy, and is it the 'stress' or even the 'distress' of 'The Producers' that keeps you so thin? Perhaps you could tell us what you are eating whilst we are all breakfasting around Britain and the rest of the world? Cheers (morning coffee)!


  • Comment number 5.

    Coming from Norn Iron ('boutye Kathy, by the way), I appreciate the variations we enjoy on Radio 4 with many different accents. If this continues, it may just start to break down the stereotypes and prejudices which all too easily come to the surface when a person speaks. On a recent French language summer school, we had to speak only French all day - no English at all - until after the exam. Then people were initially shocked to hear eachother's normal accents: (gasp, "I didn't realise you were Irish/Welsh/German"). We had got to know eachother without the 'filter' of stereotypes linked to accent. It was both challenging and refreshing. Keep it up, Kathy!

  • Comment number 6.

    sweynh / perfectsix - I am absolutely not advocating a 'return to the fifties' - indeed in many of my posts I despair at programmes which appear to be stuck in the fifties.

    My point is merely that there is a completely incongruous approach to accent and pronunciation on Radio 4. On the one hand being completely out of touch with the general pronunciation of 'Einstein'. Then starting to pronounce 'mall' to rhyme with 'ball'. And going to inordinate effort to pronounce 'Newcastle' and 'Glasgow' as the locals would pronounce it.

    And seeming to have no rules whatsoever about the pronunciation of 'Guus Hiddink'.

    All I am suggesting is a bit of consistency. Britain does not have an equivalent to the French 'Academie Francaise' or even the 'Welsh Language Board'. If people listening to Radio 4 assume that words are going to be pronounced correctly, fine.

    But if one isn't going to bother, which is a principled position, why then bother with pronouncing foreign names and places any differently to the 'man on the Clapham / Manchester / Liverpool omnibus' ??

    p.s. and for any remaining readers who think I'm suffering from 'sense of humour failure' [the very thought !] I should say I do enjoy hugely hearing Kathy Clugston doing the voices of BOTH Mary McAleese AND our very dear Queen Elizabeth on 'The Folks on the Hill'...

  • Comment number 7.

    You know, with Announcer's Week co-inciding with World Metrology Day, I am not sure I can take the shattering significance of the moment!

    For all your brave talk, @LordBeddGelert, (and I am very happy for you that the 50s is not, as seemed to me likely, your chosen decade), it seems to me that the Clapham/Liverpool axis, like the significance of your comment, is very limited.

    I stand by my belief that Radio 4 Announcers, and most others on Radio 4, taken together make a very good effort at representing how people (of all generations) from Unst to the Scilly Isles (and all points west to east) actually talk. This includes their use of words normal in everyday conversation in English usage within the UK, and also of there various attempts (not as various as the attempts of those I have heard in Orkney, never mind the rest of the UK) to pronounce words and names borrowed from elsewhere.

    For me, the only *necessity* is that we know roughly what they are going on about: if the BBC wants to maintain a unit, with or without guidelines (on pronunciation or other stuff) to maximise the chance of exceeding this minimum requirement, what is wrong with that?

    As far as I know (and there will be others who have direct experience of this, who may be able to comment)there are no rules on pronunciation on the UK-wide channels of the BBC, just guidelines (and many differing opinions on their interpretation and relevance). *Very* like life on the outside, as far as I have ever experienced it.

    I really must listen this "Folks on the Hill" stuff sometime, though .....

  • Comment number 8.

    Thanks very much for your comments so far. (Even lordBeddGellert smuggled in a compliment!) Theres going to be a blog post on the subject of pronunciation later in the week.

    kleines c I dont much mind who tells me off in my anxiety dreams as long as my teeth haven't fallen out. I must say they do allow us a seat in the studio, although we usually have to kick Garry Richardson out of it. It must be racing up and down the stairs to and from the newsroom every half-hour that works off the porridge, croissants, toast and peanut butter, bananas, raspberry yoghurt, toast and marmite, croissants and muffins. Roughly in that order.

  • Comment number 9.


    Speaking as someone whose accent has changed over the years to give me a faintly 'loyd grossman' strangulation of vowels, I am in no position to talk - but having grown up with a 'phonetic language', if I have to suffer the indignity and torture of having to modulate my speech to deal with 'heathcote-amory', 'cholmondely', 'mainwaring' and the complete lack of rhyme and reason in English, I don't think other people should be let off lightly.

    After all, I often think "Well if saying it like that is good enough for the BBC, then it must be right". But what if they are wrong ? Or is it just that, as with Dylan Thomas, there is often not a 'right' or 'wrong' way of pronouncing things anyway ?

    There was a specific example on Radio 4 of a foreign place name which did annoy me, but rather like a butterfly being chased, I can't put my finger on it at the moment.


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