Of course, if you are reading the news on air, some newsworthy names can be problematic. I’m talking tricky nomenclatures with Charlotte Green, a woman for whom the word “nomenclature” is a mere bagatelle.
Sri Lankan surnames however? A bit more tricky. As Green says, “They seem to have about 17 consonants at once. You have to sort of take a running leap at them.” But they’re not impossible.
What Green, formerly of the Radio 4 newsroom (of which more later), could not manage was the combination of a naughty surname, and Jim Naughtie. “Like the Chief Constable of Kent,” says Green, shaking her severely bobbed hair with despair.
“You would go cold with fear knowing the consequences of that. Jim and I, we have a sort of chemical reaction. I just have to look at him and we both just… go. We can’t stop giggling.”
Yes, Charlotte. You have a lovely, deep voice. It is ideal for intoning the news dispassionately, authoritatively and professionally. But when the moment takes you, oh dear.
“I do have a very earthy sense of humour and I am afraid there are a lot of names which do make me laugh,” she says, with an almost palpable sense of despair. Talk us through that famous moment.
“The one I got the giggles over? I was in the Today studio with Jim and Sue McGregor, and it was… a tremendous name. Major General Sir Jack Twat. A classic. All of us were almost under the table with laughter. Jim just started to snort.”
She shakes her head again. “Then the next story I had to read was about a sperm whale. We all had to be virtually taken out of the studio feet first. It was incredible.”
What many people find incredible is that Green, voted Radio’s Most Attractive Female Voice in an RT poll in 2002, was allowed to leave Broadcasting House. Was there a dark reason? She shrugs. “I was offered redundancy, and I took it.”
Perhaps she felt the need to branch out a bit. Of course, it was those delightful giggles, on the Today programme and also The News Quiz, that enabled her to show, perhaps inadvertently, what editors call “character”.
You can’t really display personality when you’re reading the news. But thanks to those moments of hilarity, Charlotte Green became “somebody”. “I think people like to see the rounded individual behind the microphone,” she says, carefully.
Yet the newsroom is a ferociously competitive environment. Weren’t her fellow newsreaders somewhat piqued that it was the modest, highly unassuming Charlotte who had managed, over all the other egos, to make the leap into stardom? I can imagine that some of her peers might not have been too pleased about it.
“Well, the chance was open to everyone,” she counters. “Everyone had the chance to do The News Quiz. So we are all in the happy position of being able to show our personality on the show.”
She’s certainly savvy about what could be on offer now, and is keen to try all things voicerelated, ranging from sat-nav to audio books, by way of advertising.
“I’m hoping all those things will be on the cards. I was asked to when I was at the BBC, and I had to turn it down.”
However she has landed a rather wonderful gig at Classic FM, namely presenting a two-hour show every Sunday called Charlotte Green’s Great Composers. In it, she will go through the big names in the repertoire, explaining essentially why they have earned their place in the canon.
“I’ll be looking at their lives and loves, and how their music develops, and the legacy they leave. We start with Bach.” Who does she envisage her audience to be? “Anyone who is interested in classical music and wants to learn more.”
She says she used to play the piano rather well. Used to. “It’s best for me not to go anywhere near the instrument, as I now play like Les Dawson.”
Would she like to try television? “If asked, I might bite the bullet, but I enjoy the anonymity of radio. I am a private person, and I like the fact I can wander the streets and nobody knows who I am. Apart from the occasional jeweller.”
Tell us more. “I went to get my watch repaired, and I went into this shop, and the jeweller looked at me and he said, ‘I think you’re Charlotte Green.’ And I said, ‘Yes I am, but how on Earth did you know?’ He worked in the shop doing repairs, where he had Radio 4 on all day long. It had never happened before. It made my day.”
The other thing that made her day was winning the Radio Times poll a decade ago.
“I was really chuffed. I’d been ill with glandular fever and off air for three months, so I was at home when the news came through and it gave me the most wonderful fillip.”
Even though she’s now headlining her own show she is still very modest. She clearly loves being behind a microphone and I think hearing her mellifluous tones announcing Bach preludes, Beethoven bagatelles and vaguely tricky composers like Czerny will be a joy. As she’s not stuck in the newsroom any more, she’ll almost certainly be allowed to do more giggling.