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A change in the linguistic weather

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Posted by Nick Asbury, 10 January 2011, 14:01    Permalink    Comments (32)

Last night, BBC weatherman Rob McElwee gave his final TV forecast. It marked the end of 20 years tackling one of the toughest communication challenges of all: how to talk about the same subject every night and make it sound fresh. I began documenting his words on our studio blog two years ago, as part of a series called A Cloudy Language...

Rob's final forecast began: "After 20 years of doing this, you'd think I'd get it right by now. Well, here's one last go."

A typically well-crafted two minutes later, it ended: "Waiting behind me is the wild week ahead. And if you've been listening to me, thank you."

I have been listening to Rob for some time. A Cloudy Language features the words of several weather forecasters and was originally inspired by ITV presenter Siân Lloyd's pronouncement that "Tomorrow we'll be speaking mainly a cloudy language." But Rob has always been the master.

Where other presenters have quirks and foibles that merely distract, Rob employed deliberate strategies to engage us in what should be one of the most fascinating subjects on television – the mysterious machinery of the elements that shapes our everyday lives. In doing so, he never compromised the dignity of his subject, or insulted the intelligence of the viewer. He expected us to take an interest.

Too often, we let him down in this respect. We treat watching the weather forecast as a passive exercise, rather than a two-way process. Note how Rob's last words thank us for ‘listening', not for ‘watching'. It's a deliberate choice of word, aimed at those people who tried to meet him halfway.

And it's an implied critique of the way forecasting has become an increasingly visual medium – full of whizzy graphics and camera-friendly presenters. Rob knows that, in the end, it's all about the words.

As a final tribute, here are some of Rob McElwee's finest moments from the last two years. Admittedly, these include some of his more esoteric pronouncements, where the search for an engaging turn of phrase took him up strange linguistic paths. But I and many others have enjoyed wandering those paths with him.

 

"This first week of the four will produce rain a-plenty, some thunder, Met Office warnings and limited area hotness."

"From Tuesday to Thursday, a flabby low pressure area will allow warm sunshine between slow-moving heavy showers."

"The thought of increasing cloud and rain is there with you in Wales."

"Then, to end the week, pressure starts to build, the northerly is cut off and the sun can be bolder."

"Settled, sunny and increasingly warm weather inhabits the south of the UK."

"We are still in the story of rain for the time being."

"That tongue of cloud is a forecast - it may be a little more dispersed than that."

"A cloud envelope coming up through Cornwall late in the day..."

"Someone seems to have pressed the button marked 'Rain'. At night."

"This coming month will prove the point as we bring back very cold air and then sit in it."

"Monday and Tuesday sees the decay of this cloud and its showers."

"This week is not characterised by excessive sunshine."

"A cold southeast breeze with much cloud will be our fate."

"With low confidence, the signal from the virtual atmosphere suggests that central Europe will now be under the centre of the cold anticyclone."

"Temperatures remain below average but snow will probably be more of a hill or temporary event."

"Do not dismiss February as a potentially cold month."

"There seems to be a reluctance on the part of the atmosphere to move with any speed."

"It's a jagged translation and rain is still in the story."

"The first few nights this week could grow fog."

"It's breezy and the sky responds to that by breaking the cloud up and letting the sun through."

"I say rain proper because behind my head is lime green and yellow."

"Windy and wet, or wet and windy: it works either way."

"Otherwise, it's just a scattering of showers and big holes in the sky."

"...and here's the line of familiarity that brings rain to Northern Ireland."

"The wind is very much not there."

 

Best wishes to Rob in the wild weeks ahead.

Nick Asbury is a freelance copywriter, one half of Asbury&Asbury studio and a director of 26, the non-profit organisation dedicated to the promotion of good writing. This post is an edited version of one that originally appeared on the Asbury&Asbury blog and is republished with permission.

32 Comments

How nice to read the thoughts of someone who is as impressed by Rob McElwee as I have been. Other forecasters 'do the job', but Rob brought a deftness of touch and a considerable flair to weather forecasting in a gentle but authoritative style all his own. My wife has grown used to my cry of, "Rob - Mate!" over the years whenever it has been his turn on screen. How can the BBC (not that they are alone) fail understand that not everything is about 'whizzy' and 'trendy'. Some things are much better for being 'familiar' and 'reliable' - and, if I am allowed one extra, how about 'friendly'. Perhaps they will realise that they 'Don't know what they've got 'til its gone', will realise the great gap that has been created, and reinstate a consummate professional. We can only hope.
Peter Clayton
2011-01-10 17:29:16


God Bless Rob ... Good wishes to him and a big thank you
Rishi
2011-01-10 18:29:59


It's difficult to believe the extent of the BBC's capacity to shoot itself in the foot. Somebody as erudite and articulate as Rob McElwee is almost inevitably going to be repalced by yet another lightweight weather presenter who will be a triumph of appearance over substance. We agree with the comments above about the BBC pandering to (dubious) trends and would add that this is yet another example of rampant managerialism in the public sector. If Rob has fallen foul of the now-ubiquitous 'competencies' that plague our age more fool those who misguidedly place their faith in them as a way of selecting the right people for the role. The weather forecast will be much the poorer for his departure.
Jacky & Rob Eyres
2011-01-10 19:58:59


Of course Rob McElwee 'got it right': his gentle yet firm delivery held the attention. So much better than many 'presenters' stomping back and forth flinging their arms around.When will the BBC learn to value their gems and to ditch the bling?
Christine Carter
2011-01-11 09:41:40


Rob, you will missed. I always enjoyed his subtle approach and attempts to bring a slightly more lateral approach to his weather bulletins. Unfortunately the BBC and subtlety aren't a match these days. There's a new weather presenter on BBC West Midlands who seems to think he is a windmill.
Robert Hale
2011-01-11 11:08:09


Well done Nick on an excellent post.
Most modern weather presenters look, sound and behave like an evil robot clone army. Fixed grins, unconvincing skin tones and deadly whirring arms - even a Time Lord would struggle with this lot.
Such a shame then to lose a clever, funny and occasionally inscrutable maverick like Rob. Please bring him back!
Johnny
2011-01-11 11:14:09


Mon, Tues, Wed, Thur, Fri, Sat and Sun will be mild with a chance of rain.
Graphic Design Manchester
2011-01-11 11:56:09


Oops! I thought this was CR...
Curator
2011-01-11 12:27:42


As I understand it, the decision was the Met Office’s more than the BBC’s, although it originated in the BBC’s request for a smaller weather team. There was a subsequent interview process at the Met Office which Rob somehow failed. Maybe his rhetorical flourishes don’t lend themselves well to an interview environment. (Although Dan Corbett made it through and I’d like to have been a fly on the wall in that one.)

Yes, this is all off the beaten track for Creative Review. As someone has already quipped on Twitter, Rob is more of a creative preview man.
Nick Asbury
2011-01-11 13:21:56


Lovely appreciation of Rob's language.
And a nice photo of Alan Partridge, above.
"This week is not characterised by excessive sunshine"will stay with me.
If ever the words of our National Anthem are rewritten (please God), we should turn to Rob for a verse on our great British weather.
Tim
2011-01-11 15:42:57


this is really nice. Most copywriters would be happy to spurt out some of those phrases.
beta-love
2011-01-11 15:50:28


Rob will be 'soarly mist' from the revelations of clouds, and rain and snow and sunshine in this part of the world. Weather reporting will, from now on, be mostly foggy in some places.
James
2011-01-11 16:24:50


It was a Pleasure to get the weather from Rob McElwee whatever it had in store. We wish him all the best.
Kate and Michael
Kate Colgrave
2011-01-11 16:31:23


What a sad reflection of our times that the people who run the BBC respond to the mean minded influence of the current administration and cut the input from popular broadcasters to save a tiny amount. Axe Mark Thompson, say I.

Good luck to Rob McElwee, the full Highland dress on Hogmanay was great.

David P.
David Peate
2011-01-11 17:24:36


Lovely post by Nick. Made the day a little sunnier
John Simmons
2011-01-11 19:02:20


Great post
Ben Terrett
2011-01-11 21:08:54


Proving you can bring imagination and virtuosity to anything. Love it.
Katy
2011-01-14 19:37:27


A chance encounter with Rob, usually post Newsnight, always added a touch of colour to the close of the day. The weather will be that bit more grey.
Cav
2011-01-16 15:31:29


"It's difficult to believe the extent of the BBC's capacity to shoot itself in the foot. Somebody as erudite and articulate as Rob McElwee is almost inevitably going to be repalced by yet another lightweight weather presenter who will be a triumph of appearance over substance." I couldn't agree more. When will the BBC learn???!!! Getting rid of these reliable, informative, interesting people is not the way to go and not what the listeners and viewers want. I loved watching the weather when Rob presented it - I miss him and the sparkle in his eye. BRING HIM BACK!!!!
Kate Gould
2011-02-11 22:48:09


BRING BACK ROB MC ELWEE.......I absolutely agree! What is wrong with the BBC....I would stay up after a long working day, just to catch Rob's dry, poetic, articulate, humorous take on the weather, and what a fresh outlook we all got from his individual approach. Have just switched to BBC now to see him and realised he has been replaced by a boring, institutionalized, humdrum, blah reporter. Thats the end of my watching! Stupid establishment BBC!!!
Jane
2011-02-18 00:43:07


I can't believe that the BBC could even consider getting rid of Rob. I read one of the emails saying he had to have an interview, after 20 years he had to have an interview - unbelievable!!! Just can't say how sorry I was to miss Rob's last weather report. My husband got used to me giving a big wave and a shout of Hi Rob when he appeared on the weather at 10pm, in fact I used to specifically wait to see if it would be Rob. He was the best with his humorous way of reading the weather. We now have some boring weather reader with no personality at all.

Rob you will be greatly missed in this house.

I want to lead the BRING BACK ROB campaign!
Barbara
2011-02-20 23:06:35


Bring back Rob McElwee.

It's that simple. He was a breath of fresh air who made the weather forecast interesting to watch, and even more interesting to listen to. More importantly he made it memorable. How many times do you find your wife asking you what the weather's going to be like just after you have watched a forecast, only to respond with "I don't know"?. That NEVER happened with Rob. He engaged his audience in a way that no other forecaster does today. He had personality. He EXPLAINED things. He even used meteorological terms like pressure and isobars and fronts. Sometimes, he even educated his audience with a little titbit of unusual weather behaviour. He added humour, warmth, and even mirth. There was never a bland, formulaic forecast with Rob. Fundamentally, he understood his audience, unlike his Met Office/BBC bosses.

He enjoyed it, and we enjoyed it with him.

The last forecast of his that I saw was his Hogmanay broadcast, ten minutes before midnight. He was dressed up to the nines in full highland dress, replete with weather symbol tie. This was his last broadcast of the night before going off to enjoy the festivities. The 8am view for the following morning was dispensed with in favour of the 12noon view since "no-one will be up by then, at least I won't be". The whole forecast was laced with dry wit and was simply brilliant. I'll be glad to remember him that way.

What on earth the Met Office/BBC think they are doing by allowing the best weather forecaster by far to be pulled from our screens for "other" duties simply beggars belief.

Rob, we miss you. We want you back on our screens, back where you belong, back telling us like it is, and what it is going to be. The world is a far drearier place without you popping in once in a while to the corner of our living rooms.

If there isn't already a Bring Back Rob campaign, then lets get one going. Who's in?
Dave Miller
2011-02-23 12:15:54


Rob McElwee was the best forecaster on the BBC by a country mile, and obvious to any thinking person. The decision to put him out to grass is one which only the apparatchiks in the Met Office and the corporation would ever comprehend, living in their parallel universe of mission statements and competency frameworks.

Our television screens will be a duller place without Rob's presence.
Mark Rowley
2011-02-28 09:51:21


Bring back Rob McElwee! I actually often switched channels in the hope that it was Rob's turn to forecast the weather. He was informative with subtle humour thrown in and made me smile whatever weather he was promising us. He always seemed genuinely interested in not only telling what the weather would do, but why. His replacements just give the basics, in fact sometimes I'm sure we're shown a recording of their earlier forecast and instead of watching I find l myself talking over them or leaving the room. When Rob came onscreen I actually often let my 29 year old son know as he liked Rob's style too - he said 'he's quality'. We don't all want to see bland young faces on TV, we all grow older and some of us prefer to hear information from a reassuringly mature person who knows what he's talking about puts it over in a cheery and interesting way.
Caroline Derrick
2011-03-04 07:17:02


I knew that it would be difficult to live without Rob McElwee but I thought I was strong enough but I[m not. We miss his humour. His delivery and his timing were superb. The BBC have made a grave error of judgement in getting rid of him.
Maggie Dyer
2011-03-07 14:25:51


Good riddance to you, over-dramatic, pauses for effect, patronising, lightweight...you won't be missed...
markangelucci
2011-04-18 14:22:01


I came back from my winter break and lo- no Rob! My nighttime viewing will never be quite the same again.
We miss that forecasting !
Sally Miller
2011-05-21 11:39:23


Please sign the petition to bring Rob back: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/13/bring-back-rob/
Karen
2011-07-12 11:39:30


Why on earth did the idiot BBC managers axe Rob McElwee, surely the forecaster with the finest, and most memorable quips? Quite clearly they have no idea about the art of communication, the very raison d'etre of the BBC!

Rob is sadly missed, and the weather forecasts just drone past me, largely un-noticed.

Phil Smith, Poole, Dorset.
Phil Smith
2011-10-04 13:09:49


Rob McElwee was the very best weather forecaster ever, we really miss his informative and quirky forecasts - AND HE DIDN'T GABBLE !!
Jan Dalton
2012-01-01 11:36:50


A sad loss - his quality has not been matched by the replacements.
Andrew Last
2012-01-08 16:54:23


I always wondered why the BBC had renewed his contract. He looked pianfully insecure most of the time,and just constantly uttered the most silly comments.To me he appeared to not really be on the viewers wavelength somehow,and had a very awkward and unsettling demeanour.
Clearly a very nice chap it must be said but his stage presence made me cringe. And I found myself watching the weather forecast to study the psychology.
Yes the BBC bosses thought the same and I think a behind the camera position is prudent
Always thought he was I'll in some way.Anyway he would be earning big dosh still, be wealthy and can look forward to a nice pension
Good luck to him
mr r lewis
2013-01-07 08:47:28


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