Monday, 13 March 2017

It isn't what Sky Pol Corr Beth Rigby says - it's the way she says it that grates

Many years ago, the BBC hired a very experienced newspaper business correspondent to work on its new daily breakfast-time business programme on BBC One, which I joined shortly afterwards as a producer. She (the journalist) was hugely knowledgeable and ever so nice - but she was just plain wrong for television. The problem was mostly her voice: her accent was very upmarket - nothing wrong with that, of course - but she spoke through her nose, as if her jaws had been permanently wired shut. The effect was so striking that it was impossible to concentrate on what she was actually saying. We all wanted her to succeed - but no matter what we tried, it just didn't work. (I won't name the poor woman, because she fell ill a few months into her BBC stint, and died soon afterwards. I just remember hoping that the stress of not succeeding in a new medium hadn't contributed to her illness - whatever, it certainly can't have helped.)

Having an unappealing voice isn't always a bar to success. Derek Jameson, a tabloid newspaper editor, went on to enjoy a remarkably successful broadcasting career, despite a Radio 2 producer describing him to me, accurately, as "an ugly man with an ugly voice." Two minutes of Russell Harty's camp Northern tones always left me wanting to smash the TV set: ditto Chris Evans aggressively shouting unfunny things at his audience. And dear old Trevor MacDonald drove me round the twist talking about the "gummint".  I'm also deeply opposed to continuity announcers with regional - or foreign - accents. Their voices should be pleasing but unexceptional, and their accents should be received pronunciation: they shouldn't be "personalities". (Yes, Dead Ringers turned veteran Radio 4 continuity announcer Brian Perkins into a personality, but that wasn't his fault.)

I'm more forgiving when it comes to newsreaders. I have a fondness for grumpy Northern men of a certain age, especially if they look and sound as if they have a bit of a hangover. It tend to make them sound sceptical and slightly exasperated about everything some credulous, over-educated, soft Southern editor - quite possibly female - is forcing them to read out.  Scottish accents also work well. As for correspondents and reporters, I don't really care about their accents as long as they're identifiably British: one of my favourites is ITV News's Charlene White,  a black Londoner who sounds it. What I can't abide - in either reporters or newsreaders - is a verbal tic, mannerism or oddity, especially if it crops up all the time. There was a political TV presenter/correspondent/interviewer called Llew Gardner back in the '70s who drove me nuts by constantly droppin' his "g"s. Let me be very clear: I have absolutely no problem with friends and acquaintances doing this - couldn't care less. And it isn't a class thing: Llew Gardner, Sir Alf Ramsey, Lord Peter Wimsey - whoever does it, it's maddenin', because it diverts one's attention from what the blighters are (or were) sayin'.

I was reminded of my "dropped g" obsession this morning when I read this tweet:
I'm a fan of Stephen Pollard, but he's plain wrong on this issue. A stranger in the street isn't being paid by a broadcasting company to tell us what's happening in the world. If you pursue a career as a performer in television or radio - or opt to do any job which involves broadcasting to the public - you're setting yourself up to be criticised by members of the audience. 

Beth (or Beff, as she probably pronounces it) Rigby is the former deputy political editor at the FT and media editor at the Times, so her appointment as a senior political correspondent at Sky News last year doesn't seem that odd. Here's a sample of her style: 

She might be an excellent journalist - but I'm never going to know because she appears to be allergic to pronouncing the letters "ing" in the accepted fashion: they always comes out as "in". She also has an unfortunate habit of pepperin' her reports - her live two-ways in particular - with words ending in "ing": politicians are always runnin' the risk of somefin or uvver, and they're always facin' problems that aren't goin' away, and, of course, Theresa May is on the verge of triggrin' Article 50. She also speaks rather ponderously: she has managed to make the most exciting period in British politics since the Thatcher era sound slightly dreary.  Whatever her merits as a print journalist, she just isn't right for television. Presumably Sky gave her screen tests, and thought that, with a bit of coaching, they could get her up to speed. Well, not so far, they haven't. Leaving her lack of oomph aside,  I suggest they do what some tweets have suggested and send her for some very intensive elocution lessons. Because, unless she locates those missing gs, I - and, I'm sure, many others - will continue to flinch every time she drops one. As it were. 

Everybody who has anything to do with broadcast news must have seen the excellent 1987 film, Broadcast News, in which a second-rate journalist, played by William Hurt, becomes a hugely successful anchor because he looks and sounds great, he's perfectly at home in front of the camera, and, while he knows next to nothing about anything, he has a red-hot producer (the delightful Holly Hunter) feeding him vital information via his ear-piece. Meanwhile, a would-be rival (Albert Brooks), who's a far more accomplished journalist, fails to make it as a presenter because his brain seizes up in front of the camera, and he sweats like a pig - "more than Nixon ever sweated" - under studio lights. I'd only been working in TV News for a short while when I first saw the film, but I'd already been surprised to discover that one of our "star" newsreaders was pretty much as thick as a brick - but great on air. Unfair, I know - but that's just how it is.


  1. How I agree with you re Beth Rigby never pronouncing the 'ing' of word endings; it drives me mad & I switch channels because of it!

  2. What is constantly driving me mad is the fact that so many people are incapable of saying "nuclear". So often it is pronounced at "nucular". Can't anyone tell them, and insist they get it right? It does seem that any word with two vowels side by side absolutely throws them and they just can't cope. The best example I can give is someone who said "I hope your plans come to furition".

  3. Amongst my particular bête noires are "sektree" and "gummint" - but the one that's becoming universal is putting the emphasis on the wrong syllable in terms such as "fire-FIGHT-er" and "ambulance DRIV-er" - nobody talks this way in real life, so why do reporters and news presenters do it? As for almost every member of the public on TV starting every declarative sentence with "so" ("So, I've made you a tarte tatin...", "So, I'd just turned into the road when..."), this seems to have become as ubiquitous as sticking the word "like" randomly in every sentence and turning statements into questions ("So, I've made you, like, a tarte tatin, yeah?"). It's almost a relief when the news READ-er comes on.

  4. I am bothered by the fact that so many Americans give "tourist" and "terrorist" exactly the same pronunciation. How are we to discern the difference and, more importantly, how are they?

  5. I did send a twitter to her asking her to pronounce ing, but it came accross as a class thing and of course was not meant as that. I have nothing against regional accents but they should pronounce the words correctly whilst using their natural accent.

  6. why has no-one mentioned the infuriating Peston and his contorted speech ?
    For perfect delivery go back to Tomorrow's World and the easy charm of Raymond Baxter.

    1. Agreed. Most annoying speech mannerisms EVER. Incredibly painful to listen to. You might enjoy this:

  7. Thank you Scott: Beth seems lovely but her loss of ngs completely distracts us. We always think of Martin Jarvis doing "Just William", and have a good laugh.

  8. I thought it was just me. Glad I'm not alone in my thinkin' about Beff Rigby.
    Don't get me started on C4's continuity announcers with impenetrable accents, speech impediments - or Tourette's syndrome!
    "Diversity" means common sense has been thrown away, with well-meaning but idiotic people asking me "what's wrong with that?"

  9. I share the view of the writer on Beth Rigby, she is obviously a talented journalist, but missing the ing off words is grating and I can't listen to her for long.

    It was interesting that the replies to the Twitter query attempted to turn it into class discrimination and a criticism of non-etonian accents, when it is purely a criticism of lazy pronunciation.

  10. I find myself changin' channels when she starts talkin' I'm afraid.

  11. Beth Rigby's truncated gerund is a political signal that she supports lower standards for lower classes.