Eddie Mair: We are taking PM to the Proms

"That’s how things sometimes work on the radio. One item about strange sounds. Some listeners chip in. And now there could be singing gibbons at the Proms"

Usually I go to great lengths – or if I’m tired, breadths – to avoid embarrassing colleagues in this column. When I am telling tales of the mysterious goings-on inside Broadcasting House, I try not to name any individuals.


After all, why should they have their good names sullied because I want to relate a little story? Plus, occasionally, they’ve been known to take legal action to prevent me identifying them, which is why I’m only ever allowed to refer in print to Cor*ie Corfield.

Sometimes, though, like when you try to dress in the dark, the boot can be on the other foot. A while ago I wrote about some incident or other and referred to a “PM producer”. It wasn’t that she’d done a bad thing; on the contrary. But I didn’t think it was my place to drag her good name through the public prints.

Imagine my surprise when the column appeared in print and the colleague I mentioned berated me for not naming her. The woman is Joanna Carr, the talented, gifted, delightful and occasionally fearsome editor of PM, iPM, and Broadcasting House. She really is terrific and I’m not just saying that because she is literally holding a gun to my head while I type this.

The conversation (actually it was more of a shouted monologue) went something like this:

Jo: “Producer? PM PRODUCER?? I can’t believe you anonymised me! I’m your editor!”

[Eddie opens mouth to respond.]

Jo: “I mean, PRODUCER? I have a name, you know,” and so on and so forth. She has not let me forget, though the shouting has quietened and can no longer be heard three floors above.

I tell you this because I want to give the fragrant Joanna full credit for something happening in August. In January, PM hosted Trevor Cox, professor of acoustic engineering at the University of Salford. He had recorded many weird and wonderful sounds, including that of the quietest place in England, a musical road and Cor*ie Corfield playing the paper and comb. Afterwards, Jo wondered whether our listeners might send us their favourite sounds. And so began something that is still running every night on PM even now, just before the chimes.

So far, people have sent in the sounds of a lifeboat launch, Morse code, something called kulning (you must hear it to believe it), a singing whippet, singing gibbons, a musical drainpipe and an egg cutter. You can hear many of the sounds for yourself on the PM website. 

One day, Jo arrived at the office in a very excited state. She’d had an idea for the PM listeners’ sounds. She was going to approach BBC Radio 3 to ask if they could do something with them for this year’s BBC Proms.

To cut a long story short (I realise it might be too late for that) Radio 3 has commissioned a brilliant young composer, Tom Harrold, to create an original work that will feature some of the sounds sent to us. The work will be performed by the Aurora Orchestra, conducted by Nicholas Collon, as part of the Inspire Young Composers’ Competition winners’ concert on 20 August.

And that’s how things sometimes work on the radio. One item about strange sounds. Some listeners chip in. And now there could be singing gibbons at the Proms. (Oh, and one brilliant editor. The things I have to do for a quiet life.) 


Eddie Mair presents PM, Monday to Friday at 5:00pm, and iPM Saturday at 5:45am and 5:30pm on Radio 4