I first got wind of it on Wednesday, when the BBC phoned to ask if I would be willing to take part in the Today programme on Radio Four the next morning. The plan was that I should sit in the studio for half an hour as Evan Davies and Justin Webb presented the live broadcast, and then discuss with them any matters of pronunciation interest that I had observed. (Listen here.)
I agreed. An hour or two later BBC Radio Five Live rang to say would I do a quick interview with them first. I agreed to that too, though it meant getting out of bed half an hour earlier. They would send a car for me at 06:30.
I duly arrived at the Television Centre in Wood Lane, White City, which is where BBC radio is temporarily housed during the refurbishment of Broadcasting House. I did the R5 interview, and was waiting in the green room for R4 when an emissary from the World Service waylaid me to get me to do an interview with them too. OK.
I don’t generally give out my mobile phone number, but I did supply it to the BBC in case of emergencies. They must have circulated it within the organization, because by now there were text messages asking me to do interviews for BBC local radio in (a) Belfast and (b) Wales. Nothing came of the first, but the second turned into a 45-minute phone-in.
That was the point at which I started turning down further invitations, though I did accept one further one, television rather than radio, for the BBC World News with Zeinab Badawi (which necessitated a second visit to the Television Centre). Fortunately Britain has plenty of other competent phoneticians. Michael Ashby wrote
I think I was the only phonetician in Britain who wasn't on one or other radio or TV channel this morning—in fact, I was asked to be, but had an Exam Board to chair.Three of UCL’s first-year linguistics students were interviewed, proud to be treated as experts. Paul Kerswill told me
I was to have been the linguistics talking head on C4 news tonight, but Lancaster U's studio has broken down! All good stuff though. 'Impact'.…which is true, and is what justifies all the hassle these things put us through. It heightens people’s awareness of phonetics, and helps (I hope) dispel some of the prejudice and ignorance surrounding popular views on pronunciation.
The BBC is notoriously mean over payment to contributors, while also being strangely lavish in the use of chauffeured cars. I explained to them that for me to get from my home to the Television Centre it was quicker to use the Underground than to struggle by car through the traffic on London’s roads, but they insisted. By Underground it takes me sixty minutes door-to-door, including the fifteen minutes’ walk to my local station. The chauffeured car took up to an hour and twenty-five minutes and for the four journeys must have cost the BBC something like thirty times the price of a one-day travelcard. I would rather have travelled on public transport and augmented my meagre fee by the sum they paid the taxi company. It would have been better for the environment, too. Ah well.