“We’ve been putting out the bunting and popping the champagne corks at our Weather Studio.
Yes, the ITV National Weather service has reached the grand old age of twenty five. There’s back patting a plenty and joyous trips down Memory Lane, as we original presenters are given carte blanche to wind the clock back and indulge ourselves in incidents involving isobars and isotherms from days gone by.
I use the word “original’ loosely, because I wasn’t actually part of the original line-up. The launch was actually down to the late Trish Williamson and Alex Hill. Shortly afterwards, Martyn Davies joined the line-up. And let’s here it for John Charlesworth and Rex Roskilly from the Met Office, who actually achieved the Herculean task of bringing it all together, on time and on budget. The Met Office weather service for ITV was the first in the UK to use animated graphics, the first to have sponsorship and the first to boast a title sequence. Those early days were all about innovation.
Our precious animating symbols might have been a crude 8 bit “trick’ that allowed raindrops to fall from the clouds, but we still needed about a dozen people and enough computing power to put a man on Mars to pull it off! The process was cutting edge, executed by the brightest and best in the field, but things didn’t always go smoothly. We were supposed to pre-record everything because the technology was far too new to trust on live transmissions. But the reality of it meant going live more often than we would have wished, and getting away with it, albeit by the skin of our teeth!
Weather outside broadcasts are now commonplace. But back in the day, we were the pioneers. We did our bulletins from places as diverse as The Chelsea Flower Show, Scottish ski slopes and the National Folk Museum in St Fagan’s in Cardiff. At our tiny office in the Independent Television News HQ in Wells Street in central London, we prepared special bulletins tagged on to significant events, such as World Meteorological Day and major sporting and cultural events. The aim was to depart from the traditional BBC style of presentation and achieve a slightly more relaxed attitude. Whether we succeeded or not is for others to say, but I think it’s fair to say that many of those ideas are now pretty mainstream.
I was working as a Journalist/Producer for Worldwide Television News when the good folk at the Met Office persuaded me to screen test for the National Weather back in 1992. They dragged me in to a studio screaming and kicking, because I was set upon a journalistic news career. But accepting the job proved to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. After all, the weather appertains to everything – from sport and sartorial choices through to moods and foods – and believe you me, there’s never a dull moment! I guess the biggest difference I’ve seen in the past twenty years or so, is the fact that when I first joined the team the Weather was something that simply followed the News. Nowadays, it makes the News headlines.
Yes, twenty years is a long time, the weather’s gone topsy-turvy, and memories abound. Technical faults, those cursed technical faults! Meaning the button on the zapper responsible for moving on the graphics would sometimes get stuck. I can’t tell you the number of times I used a lipstick instead, pressing the top histrionically and praying the producer would see my thumb and change the maps. Cold sweats and controlled panic was the name of the game, but we always got away with it, and if truth be told, loved every terrifying minute.
An embarrassing episode for me involved being caught on air with a mouthful of chewing-gum. It had been a particularly chaotic lunchtime news bulletin and the camera cut to me without warning. I had no choice – the gum had to go. So I sneakily turned to the chart and spat it out. I aimed for the floor, but alas, missed. Instead, it landed on the weather map and there it stayed, protruding Everest-like out of normally flat East Anglia. For two very LONG minutes………
I will always remain grateful that I got the chance to work with talented professionals like Martyn Davies and Alex Hill. They taught me so much and inspired within me a lifelong love affair with the Highs and Lows of the British Weather. In this age of blatant lookism, they were totally themselves. They had no interest in polishing their egos, only in focusing on delivering the most accurate forecast possible. I especially love the fact that Alex Hill ignored the request of an ITV executive to shave off his beard and tone down his ”robust” Scottish accent.
ITV will never see their likes again.
As a compatriot of mine once sang: Those were the days my friends……”
Thank you, Sian, and a very happy anniversary to you all!