It was the style of speech which defined the BBC for decades. For a long time Received Pronunciation was used by virtually all BBC broadcasters. It was Lord Reith who believed this to be a form of speech which would be acceptable across the whole UK.
By the 1960 and 1970s, of course, the power of RP was in decline. To see it as superior to other forms of speech was increasingly arcane.
Many distinguished broadcasters had clear regional accents. If anyone were to suggest that RP was the sign of a good broadcaster, they would have been laughed at – their definition would have excluded such distinguished figures as Terry Wogan and Michael Parkinson and countless others.
Local radio also brought the diverse range of voices across the nation to the fore.
Yet until the 1990s it was still unusual to hear someone with a significant regional accent in the network announcer’s chair. One well-remembered network announcer of the 1980s was apparently told his “slight” northern accent was not unpleasant.
Gradually the range of voices widened – a range of accents, textures and tones were heard. Nobody would seriously suggest a pleasant, clear regional accent was unacceptable for a network announcer.
And surely nobody would want to go back to the days when virtually all announcers were male and indistinguishable to all but the keenest listeners.
But has the pendulum now swung too far the other way?
A few announcers today have voices which may certainly be described as “authentic”. But they may lack other vocal qualities: breath control, pitch, intonation, clear diction.
In some other jobs in broadcasting this would not necessarily be a problem. Some broadcasters are renowned for their personalities, subject knowledge or humour – their voice in isolation is secondary.
But being an announcer is a different thing.
Voices should be warm, clear and calm. They should be adaptable so their delivery suits the tone and style of the programme.
An unsympathetic vocal technique can make a credit squeeze sequence truly infuriating – even to those who have no issue with the squeeze itself.
In short, perhaps the following few words should come at the top of an announcer’s job description: “a nice voice to listen to”.
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