Monday 14 August 2017, 10:14
Big Ben is iconic - it was first heard ringing out over London almost 160 years ago and is now the world’s most famous and immediately recognisable bell. It’s a sound that resonates not just in our ears but in our imagination, too. It also plays a crucial role here at BBC Radio 4, heralding the start of the 6pm and midnight news, as well as Westminster Hour on Sundays at 10pm. So, it may come as no surprise there has been much discussion about what to do when Big Ben falls silent from Monday 21 August, while the clock tower undergoes refurbishment.
After much consideration of alternatives, including using the pips or playing chimes from elsewhere, we decided to use a pre-recording of the Big Ben bongs for as long as the clock is out of action.
A number of factors were at play, including uncertainty over how long Big Ben will be silent, and a host of technical and practical considerations. A live broadcast of a bell might appear a very simple matter, but here are a number of things we needed to consider. The chimes must of course be live on air at exactly the right moment and they must chime at the key times for our schedule. And the sound must be clear and undistorted, without background noises creeping in. What may be less obvious is that, as the chimes signal the start of the news, we need to be sure the aural pitch is also appropriate.
Given all these factors, we decided that pre-recording the bongs offers the most reliable option, while allowing us to retain the commanding sound of Big Ben as part our schedule, as well as our listener’s daily lives. Once the clock is back in normal service we will resume the live broadcast in keeping with long tradition. It’s a sound which has been heard on the BBC for over 90 years and one we hope to hear on Radio 4 for many, many more.
These comments are now closed.
I'm interested in the dates of the recordings to be used by Radio 4 daily at 6pm and midnight, and at 10pm for Westminster Hour on Sundays. i.e. the moments in time that will serve as proxies for real time every day over the next four years. Do you know? Or could you point me towards someone who might know? Thank you.
It's sad that Big Ben is to be silent for so long, but it's even more sad that the BBC has chosen to replace it with a recording. This is the worst possible option. Until now we have always known that when we hear Big Ben on Radio 4 we are listening to actuality; that certainty has now been lost for ever. Much better to have used another clock, or even GTS. Shame on the BBC for so casually casting aside an important tradition.
Re Big Ben - whilst work is being done could they not play a recording of the bell, at low enough volume to protect those working on it, but loud enough for the public to hear? Loudspeakers could be aimed away from the tower, thus maximising volume to the public, whistles minimising effect on workers.
and will you state on air that this is a recording each time it is used?
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