For many listeners, the highlight of PM is just before the end of the programme when a person from the BBC Weather Centre appears, as if by magic, and, with little more than a crystal ball and some tarot cards, predicts what the weather will be like. I’m joking of course. They don’t use tarot cards.
In times gone by, weather forecasters would have only a handful of outlets per day. They’d pop up on Radio 4 once in a while... do a bit at the end of the Nine o’Clock News, that late-night thing on BBC2 and that would be about it. These days, they do all of that but in addition have to service the BBC News channel, BBC World News, online, Twitter... they barely have time to look out the window to check if their forecasts were right.
Their appearance on PM is always the last act in a long and busy shift, and yet here’s the thing they can all do: they sit down with only a satellite picture of the UK in front of them, and talk clearly, knowledgeably and to time, about the weather. It’s often the most fluid and intelligible thing in the whole hour, and it’s done without a script. Studio guests often marvel at this ability – gawping as the weather person weaves 90 seconds of perfect prose out of a map with some scribbles on it. I share their admiration. Understanding the weather, then having the ability to impart the information on radio is an underrated skill. It’s even more impressive when you consider the obstacles we sometimes place in the way of our weather staff.
The bit about talking “to time” is especially impressive. Despite our best efforts, the PM newshounds sometimes get our timings wrong. There can be many reasons for that. Lively discussions overrun their allotted time. Boring discussions overrun their allotted time. I won’t shut up.
The effect on the poor meteorologist can be that they plonk themselves in the studio chair, ready to do their minute and a half of weather, only to be told by our studio director that they have only a minute. Or half a minute. Or, on one famous occasion that was entirely my fault, about 15 seconds. They have almost no notice that their airtime has evaporated, yet somehow make it sound smooth and polished. They’re sickeningly good broadcasters.
Merry Berry latest
And here’s the urgent update I promised in last week’s column when I exclusively revealed my plan to emulate the great Mary Berry and knock up one of her famed salmon and asparagus terrines. Regrettably, I didn’t visibly enjoy the process as much as Mary does. There was some frowning as I tussled with the clingfilm dispenser and I used a word I’m sure Mary has never uttered when I switched on the blender without its lid. The kitchen was such a disaster area that the UN sent aid.
But if I say so myself, the end product was a success. It looked the part and no one was hospitalised after eating it. (My definition of “hospitalised” is an overnight stay.) I’ll try more. In fact, my new cookbook, Eddie Mair Scowls His Way through Mary Berry’s Recipes, will be on the shelves in time for Christmas. The ideal gift for an estranged ex, or a neighbour you’re taking to court over the size of their hedge.
Eddie Mair presents PM Monday to Friday at 5:00pm and iPM on Saturdays at 5:45am on Radio 4