The BBC used a US orch to test would-be announcers

The BBC used a US orch to test would-be announcers


norman lebrecht

August 01, 2016

Obituaries of Sylvia Peters, the veteran TV announcer of impeccable poise who presented the Queen’s Coronation in 1953, have dwelt on some of the hoops she was put through before the BBC accepted her natural authority.

One was requiring her to pronounce the name of a certain American orchestra.

Which? (and why?)


SOLUTION: Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, to eliminate lispers.


  • Robert Holmén says:

    I’m going to guess the orchestra was the Chee-chee-nah-tee Symphony.

  • Dr Presume says:

    St Louis Symphony? (to see whether she’d naturally pronounce it Lewis or Louie without prior guidance, I guess)

  • Antony says:

    Chautauqua Symphony? Arkansas Symphony ? Tucson? Dubuque? Louisville? Susquehanna? Duluth? Salisbury? Chippewa Valley? Spokane? Concord Chamber Orchestra? All these are pronounced differently than one would expect… Do tell! I’m itching to know!

  • Antony says:

    Or is it Pittsburgh (hint: doesn’t rhyme with Edinburgh 🙂

  • Nick says:

    The BBC used to have a pronunciation unit. All newsreaders and announcers had to do with any unusual word was call it up and be told the correct way to say it. Presumably the answers came in “propah” English with not a hint of any regional accent whatever!

    • Alexander Hall says:

      These days many – thankfully, not all – newsreaders and announcers have such an appalling general knowledge that they frequently mispronounce words and names. One of the worst things the accountants and costcutters at the BBC did was to axe the Pronunciation Unit, to which employees could always turn in doubt. This would have stopped one BBC newsreader referring to “the former Prime Minister Sir Alec Douglas-Home” where the final syllable rhymed with “loam”. And don’t get me started on the people they now employ to write captions for TV news pictures: my favourite is a reference after the name to “Hospital Chaplin”.

    • Steven Holloway says:

      It was actually more a matter of “propah” German, French, Russian, etc. Therein lay its great value. Unlike today, few announcers then needed help with English.

      On the question of the orchestra, I’ll go with Chicago — to see if she went with ‘ch’ or the correct ‘sh’ pronunciation.

    • Una says:

      Yes, they did, and then it was scrapped! No, now they can’t pronounce places like Milngavie outside Glasgow (Moolgaee) Keighley in West Yorkshire (Keethlee not Kylee!) or Leiston in Suffolk (Layston not Lyeston) or the difference between Gillingham in Kent (pronounced Jillingham) and that in Dorset hard G as in God) Even my own name is likely to be mispronounced as Yoona when it is Oonagh, as it’s Irish, and since Terry Wogan has died, they don’t do Irish!!! The list is endless before you start on Cincinnati!

  • Peter Owen says:

    The reverse would be to ask an American announcer to say “Aldeburgh is in Suffolk”. {I’m afraid the county really is pronounced Suffuck folks}.

  • Chris Clift says:

    Glouwcestershire (rhymes with cowcester) anyone? And forgive me if I am suffering from a poor memory, but wasn’t it actually designated Pronounciation Unit? Maybe a survivor from that era at the Beeb could clarify for us?

  • Nick says:

    Studio Managers working on the overseas services broadcast from the old Bush House studios would routinely have to make a pre-programme announcement. This would identify the broadcast as being from the BBC, the country or region to which it was being beamed and the language. One guy is alleged to have started with “This is the overseas service of the Beitush Broadcorping Castration . . . err, the ” etc.

  • V.Lind says:

    I have never heard major British actors I know or BBC announcers I don’t pronounce either “Chicago” or “Houston” correctly. Apart from the soft “ch” mentioned above, the “ca” syllable rhymes with “law” not “la.” And Houston, whether the large Texan city or the late singer, whose name was also mangled, is “Hyoo-ston: not “Hoo-ston.”

    • Sixtus says:

      Here in NYC you instantly brand yourself as an out-of-towner by pronouncing Houston St as they do the TX city. Here it’s how-ston.

      • V.Lind says:

        I know. And Glasgow has an area called Bella-HOO-ston, which may be why so many Brits can’t get their tongues around the other. Don’t know what the excuse is for Chicago, though — with all the international exchange of TV, movies, internet, etc., it seems odd they have not twigged. It annoys me to hear if pronounced incorrectly by the arch tones of BBC newscasters.

        But, hey — names in England are full of hazards for the unwary, from Holborn to Marjoribanks.

  • Sue says:

    This item reminds me that an ex-boss of mine from the media in the 1970s was the son of Geoffrey Fisher, late Archbishop of Canterbury. Humphrey, his son, had a very posh ex-wife with a voice which would have been totally satisfactory at the BBC. She was one of the silliest human beings I’ve ever met in my life. Humphrey was odd too!!! He used to say he didn’t care if our Arts programs were on at midnight as long as they didn’t push the much-preferred soccer into a later timeslot!! And he said it in impeccable English!!

  • William Safford says:

    I was going to suggest the Schenectady (NY) Symphony, but I see that the actual solution was already presented.