Late-night Radio 4 announcers and studio staff often take their partners for a slow waltz to the lilting strings of ‘Sailing By’, the music played before the late-night shipping forecast, it has emerged.
In an interview given to the BBC staff magazine Ariel, veteran announcer Philip Carroll let slip that it had become the tradition to grab the nearest person – man or woman – and one-two-three gracefully round the almost-deserted studio to the music used to introduce the forecast just before 1am.
‘Having an elegant twirl round the announcers’ desk almost makes up for getting stuck with working on the Radio 4 insomniac shift,’ Philip confessed. ‘We just whack up the speakers and go for it. The young broadcast assistants and interns usually can’t manage more than a simple box step but one or two of us have got really proficient over the years, and everyone has a go.
‘Some of my colleagues take it very seriously, bringing along the proper dancing gear – patent shoes, evening dress and the rest. One veteran announcer – I can’t tell you his name – has a collection of ball gowns in his locker specifically for the job. Others glide around to ‘Sailing By’ in baggie trackies and cut-off combats.’
There’s no harm in it, Philip insists. ‘It’s kept me relatively sane these last eight years. It calms me, stops me worrying what all that ‘North Utsire, South Utsire, losing its identity’ means. For all I know, it could be a coded message to the Taliban. I trained as a Shakespearean actor, you know.’
The practice has not been without its difficult moments. ‘If you get a bit carried away, you can end up dancing down the corridor, executing a complicated spin as the last flutey twiddles fade,’ Phillip explained. ‘Then you have to sprint like hell back to the desk. Not easy in slippery shoes and strapless tuile. If that happens, there’s not much you can do about it. In fact, absolutely Rock-all.’