Pink Dog

The Shipping Forecast: it’s really rather weird if you aren’t used to it

Back when I used to work in IT in the public sector, in one job I used to come up with increasingly absurd names for projects to get a kick out of seeing how quickly the absurd name became normalised, with serious, sensible, senior people happily saying what were absurd words in meetings because they had become familiar words.

The BBC’s Shipping Forecast is rather like that: a bizarre cross between a mysterious code and a succession of cryptic crossword clues to the uninitiated, a reassuring way of ending the day to the familiar (and a life-saver to those few who actually use it).

That is a mix nicely caught in the latest episode of  the great podcast 99% Invisible:

The story of this radio program starts (well before the BBC itself) in the 1850s with a man named Admiral Robert FitzRoy. He was the captain of the Beagle, the ship that brought Charles Darwin to the Galapagos…

Worried that people might associate his predictions with some kind of esoteric witchcraft or superstition, FitzRoy avoided the term prophecy in favor of forecast, and coined the phrase “weather forecast.” He delivered his forecasts by telegraph around the United Kingdom, where signal flags were hoisted in harbors to warn ships heading out to sea…

Decades after his death, FitzRoy’s forecast would expand its reach and become a British spoken word love poem to the sea, all thanks to a new technology: radio. Two years after the BBC was founded in 1922, their first Shipping Forecast went out.


(If the embed doesn’t work for you, you can also listen to it here.)

I’d highly recommend you take a listen to this episode. It also reminded me why hearing the shipping forecast makes me optimistic.

A very British footnote: one of the most long-running voices of the shipping forecast has also recorded a version of the full GDPR, to help lull people to sleep.

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