150 years of the Shipping Forecast: Five memorable moments

From an on-air battle with nausea to the only missed bulletin in the forecast's 96-year history

Ships on the North Sea
(Image credit: Andy Buchanan/AFP/Getty Images)

Today marks 150 years since the Met Office began issuing weather bulletins for ships at sea, a practice which eventually become the Shipping Forecast. Broadcast four times a day on BBC radio since 1921 - and nationwide since 1924 - the recitation of the familiar coastal regions has become a Radio 4 institution and a daily ritual for thousands of listenters who tune in despite having no connection to the shipping trade.

Here are some of the most memorable moments from more than 90 years on the air:

Sorry, wrong Humber

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On at least three occasions - one in 2009 and two in 2010 - presenters accidentally read the previous day's Shipping Forecast.

In all three cases, the slip-up came in the 5.20am broadcast. A BBC source told the Daily Telegraph that the bulletin had been printed out before the corporation's computer system had been updated for the day.

No such gaffe has occurred since 2010 - good news for the seafarers who rely on the broadcast to prepare for bad weather.

Sick as a Dogger

In December 2016, listeners tuning in to the early morning forecast were subjected to a series of unsettling retching and gulping sounds from BBC weatherman Tomasz Schafernaker. After struggling through part of the broadcast, Schafernaker suddenly abandoned his post, leaving newsreader Chris Aldridge to step in and finish.

Social media wags suggested Schafernaker may have over-indulged at the previous evening's BBC South-East Christmas party, but the man himself took to Facebook to attribute his sudden departure to a "bout of sickness".

Lost Sole

The Shipping Forecast has been broadcast at four set times every day for 90 years, so it's little wonder that listeners who tuned in on 30 May 2014 were deeply unsettled to hear BBC World Service playing in its 5.20am slot.

The absence of the Shipping Forecast prompted "warnings of impending armageddon" among avid listeners, says The Guardian, but the actual reason for the error was a simple technical glitch.

Rockall and roll

A Radio 4 weather bulletin might not be the most natural source of inspiration for rock musicians, but the Shipping Forecast is sampled in The Prodigy's Weather Experience, Jethro Tull's North Sea Oil and In Limbo by Radiohead.

It has even been turned into a rap, thanks to Radio 4's satirical comedy show Listen Again:

The Shipping Forecast has permeated other areas of culture, too. Irish poet Seamus Heaney's Glanmore Sonnets VII opens by reeling off the names of several of the forecast's areas.

Getting it Wight

Reading the Shipping Forecast is something of an art, and it's jealously guarded by the BBC presenters entrusted with the task.

The only famous face granted the privilege of reading out the real forecast live on air so far is former deputy prime minister John Prescott - who insisted on dropping the "H" from his native Humber region.

In 2013, Yorkshire playwright Alan Bennett treated Today programme listeners to a poetic rendition of the Shipping Forecast - but guest presenter Michael Palin reminded waterborne listeners that Bennett's script came from a past broadcast.

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