Tonight The One Show airs a ‘speaking clock special’ on BBC One.
The flagship evening magazine show – in partnership with British Telecom – will on this evenings edition announce the new permanent voice of the iconic BT Speaking Clock following a nationwide competition to mark the Clock’s 80th anniversary.
Alex Jones and Matt Baker will be in the studio live with three finalists, where the winner will be announced, and Joe Crowley will present a special film on the competition.
The BT telephone time check was introduced in 1936. The first voice was Ethel Jane Cain who was heard on the service until 1963. The BT&PO archives note that on June the 21st 1935, Cain was selected from more than 15,000 telephonists as the winner of the Golden Voice competition. As well as becoming the voice of the Speaking Clock, she was also awarded 10 guineas.
“A blue-eyed, slim blonde in the mid-twenties” with “a beautifully-modulated voice, calm and unflurried” – PO Magazine
Thanks to the fame that came with being the first voice of the service Ethel was offered various job offers, and she played the lead role of Vanity Faire in the 1935 movie Vanity, a Columbia Pictures comedy which sadly has vanished from the archives. Ethel died in 1996.
The second voice of the Speaking Clock was revealed on ITV on December 12th 1962. Pat Simmons beat 9,000 other telephonists to the top job; she at the time was working as a supervisor at a London telephone exchange. She won a first prize of £100, and the five other finalists won £25 each.
“It took me three weeks to make the recordings and I enjoyed every minute of it, in fact, I wouldn’t mind doing it all over again.” – Pat Simmons
Her voice went into service on May 8th, 1963 remaining on the service until 1984. Pat’s replacement was Brian Cobby, who had a background in theatre and had already voiced several television advertisements for the likes of Stork margarine and Surf washing powder. He worked as assistant supervisor at a telephone exchange in Withdean, Brighton and beat off more than 5,000 entries. He was the only man to make the finalists. He won £5,000 as the winner of the 1984 competition, and took just two days to make the recording, which contained 77 phrases.
“I use an old actors’ trick before recording – I take a swig of Worcester sauce. It clears your voice wonderfully.” – Brian Cobby
Cobby died in 2012.
The current resident voice is Sara Mendes da Costa who – as all the previous voices had done – became the speaking clock for BT following a competition. However the 2007 contest was the first to be opened up to to the public and was launched by BT to mark the 70th anniversary of the service. Applicants were invited to leave telephone recordings of their voice, and the proceeds of each call went to Children In Need. Mendes da Costa was announced as the winner during the BBC One aired telethon on November 17th, 2006.
There have been several temporary Speaking Clock voices, recorded for charity, including Lenny Henry, David Walliams, Sir Ian McKellen and Jo Brand.
The One Show, Speaking Clock Special, airs tonight (November 9th) at 7pm to 8pm on BBC One.