And now to soothe you into dreamland ... The Shipping Forecast
The late-night Shipping Forecast on the BBC is a maritime weather report, a British institution, a national treasure and … an accidental natural sleep aid of rare potency.
Now Britain’s strange “national lullaby” is becoming a bedtime story for grown-ups… in the form of a new Sleep Story.
The late-night Shipping Forecast on the BBC has been sending Britons gently to sleep for nearly a century. This inspired us to turn it into a Sleep Story with hopes that people across the world could benefit from this tried, tested and true natural sleep aid.
The Shipping Forecast is a broadcast of weather reports and forecasts for the seas around the British Isles – and is delivered four times a day on BBC Radio 4.
Peter Jefferson, the former BBC continuity announcer – and a distant relation of Thomas Jefferson – who became known as “the voice of the Shipping Forecast” after four decades of reading it on the BBC, has recorded a special new version for us, complete with unusually calm maritime conditions.
He also delivers his own introduction, which explains for the benefit of beginners the forecast’s history, background and special place in the UK’s national life.
First issued in 1861, as a forecast of maritime conditions for those at sea, it has been broadcast by the BBC since 1924. Down the years, it has seeped into Britain's national consciousness and become a symbol of the country and a treasured part of national life, while continuing to play a crucial role providing gale warnings and maritime forecasts.
“The version of it broadcast last thing at night”, says Jefferson, 71, “has been likened to a meditation, a mantra and a kind of lullaby since for many people it is not just rhythmic, familiar and soothing but also the last thing they listen to at night before falling asleep.”
Many faithful listeners today may find The Shipping Forecast the perfect cure for insomnia but it was and is designed for seafarers rather than landlubbers, and always starts like this:
“And now the Shipping Forecast, issued by the Met Office on behalf of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency...”
The remote, outlying parts of the British Isles and surrounding seas that the Shipping Forecast refers to are places that most listeners have never visited and could not point to on a map but which, thanks to The Shipping Forecast, form a nightly litany of strange yet familiar names that has become part of their lives.
The Shipping Forecast has inspired poetry – as well as literature, theatre, comedy and music – and been called poetry itself. “Can there be anything in any language to match the poetry of the Shipping Forecast?” asked The Guardian, when Jefferson finally parted company with the BBC. “I doubt it.”
The version of The Shipping Forecast that is read at the end of the day, when most people are tucked up in bed, is preceded by an extract from a short piece of light music called Sailing By, and is broadcast just before one o’clock in the morning.
Sailing By is a slow, swooning, Mantovani-style waltz, with a repetitive tune that helps sailors tuning in to identify the right radio station.
It was written by the British composer, Ronald Binge in 1963, but first played before the late-night Shipping Forecast in 1967 – 50 years ago this year. It has by now become an integral, if not iconic part of the late-night Shipping Forecast.
Peter Jefferson first joined the BBC in 1964. He began his four decades of broadcasting the Shipping Forecast barely a couple of years after the introduction of Sailing By and ended it in 2009.
In the intervening years, he was not the only BBC announcer to present the Shipping Forecast but he became the doyen of the art. “For this daily dose of the beautiful to work, nothing is more important than the god who administers it”, wrote The Guardian. “None has been more perfect in the last few years than Peter Jefferson, the voice of perfect modulation.”
He is also perhaps the world’s leading authority on the Shipping Forecast, having not just broadcast it for 40 years but also written a praised book on it, which was published in 2011 with the title, And Now The Shipping Forecast.
“People used to write to me saying how soothing they found it after a long day to hear this familiar mantra and say, ‘I love it when you send me to sleep at night reading the ships’.
“Well, I hope I haven’t lost my knack, and that our new recording will now have the same effect on many new listeners across the world.”
To listen to this unique Sleep Story visit the Calm app or website.