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23 November 2022

How The Shipping Forecast became the nation’s favourite lullaby

In the BBC podcast The Sleeping Forecast, the distinctive maritime weather report is read over classical music – with soporific effects.

By Rachel Cunliffe

This column will be a little different to normal – but I promise you, it is worth it. Rather than review an upcoming programme or recent podcast, I am going to tell you about something that has been on BBC Sounds for over two years but which, if the reaction when I shared it on Twitter is anything to go by, so many people have yet to discover. It is called The Sleeping Forecast, and it is the most soothing thing I have ever listened to.

The concept (as the title suggests) is a play on The Shipping Forecast, which needs no introduction. For nearly a century on the BBC this “lyrical weather report” has been keeping seafarers safe and enchanting listeners who have no ties to the ocean but are nonetheless calmed by the poetic litany of mystical sounding places – Faeroes, South Utsire, Cromarty, German Bight. My mother always said it helped her drift off – it seems she wasn’t alone. For in June 2020 someone at the BBC had the genius idea of asking Radio 4 announcer Neil Nunes, who has the most beautiful and reassuring voice imaginable, to recite snippets of this distinctive maritime forecast over classical music in hour-long episodes. It is exquisitely soporific. I’m feeling relaxed just thinking about it.

I love the idea that something intended for a very specific nautical audience has become part of our collective psyche, a unique and cherished institution that has lulled generations of insomniac Brits to sleep. And now the words first used to warn sailors of storms have been taken entirely out of context to provide a very different kind of lifeline to an anxious nation. One day, perhaps, ships will be captained by artificial intelligence and there will be no need for announcers solemnly to tell us some mysterious force is “veering north-westerly” and “losing its identity”. But whether you prefer the original or The Sleeping Forecast’s wildly popular musical remix, I think many of us will still be falling asleep to the prayer-like incantation of “rain or thundery showers, moderate or good, occasionally poor”.

The Sleeping Forecast
BBC Sounds

[See also: The unbearable complacency of the Today programme]

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This article appears in the 23 Nov 2022 issue of the New Statesman, Russian Roulette