BBC radio weathermen and women used to be mere voices on the wireless: faceless, colourless non-persons who delivered the weather forecasts in a middle-class monotone after the news and then disappeared into the ether. Eliza Doolittle showed us how in the first act of Pygmalion.
The shipping forecast on Radio 4 is still delivered in this vein, relying on lyrical-sounding names like Fastnet, Fair Isle, Forth and Faroes to inspire our imaginations.
On the other hand, TV weather-people are personalities in their own right, with style and charm. This is true not only in England. The French once had a delightful middle-aged man with frizzy hair bound in a ponytail, who used to inject so much Gallic enthusiasm into his meteorological reports that he died prematurely of a heart attack. He didn’t exactly get a state funeral, but was indeed much mourned. The Germans had a weatherman whose career as a talk show host was meteoric until overshadowed by a scandalous court case – scandalous only because of his great popularity. The Americans, as usual, seem to be the ones who started this trend.
In the UK, I have been struck by the propensity of the weather forecasters for alliterative epithets: bright and breezy is not enough, it has to be misty and murky, dull and dismal, freezing and foggy, wet and windy with sleet and snow and shivery showers. Notice something? These are nearly all bad-weather conditions, something else the weather-people seem to delight in. How boring to tell us that the weather is going to be sunny and warm – nothing to get excited about there. But watch them when there’s a storm brewing, or a blizzard approaching. Their zeal becomes orgiastic, and alliteration can carry them into a frenzy.
British weather, of course, has always been an inexhaustible topic of conversation so it probably is not surprising that those responsible for telling us about it have been encouraged to develop their poetic and dramatic tendencies: after all, hand on heart, is there any subject more suitable for poetry and drama under the British heaven?
Is RADA prepared to offer courses in Meteorological Presentation? Even Shakespeare was inspired to eloquence on more than one occasion by his native climate: just listen to King Lear! Our meteorologists have some way to go yet, but they have a magnificent model to emulate.
What about a national X-Factor type competition to produce the most impressive dramatisation of the TV weather forecast, allowing appropriate costumes for the presenters, and even suitable musical accompaniment? Alliteration, of course, would have to be well to the fore. And maybe someone somewhere has named their children after those beautifully evocative names in the shipping forecast? Where are you, siblings Lundy, Rockall and Shannon? Finistère, Viking, Cromarty and Dogger? Malin, Bailey and Fitzroy? Come to the auditions! Rally round the Met Office, and let’s beautify the Beaufort scale and glorify the gale warnings!