One of the boons of living in the North Atlantic is the odd poetry of the shipping forecast – the daily forecast of wind speed and direction, barometric
pressure, and so on in named sea quadrants around the British Isles, from the Bay of Biscay to Iceland. If it is true that the weather is a religion
to the British, then the shipping forecast is its doxology.
The shipping forecast was developed in the middle of the nineteenth century by Vice-Admiral Robert FitzRoy, director of the forerunner to the modern-day Met Office, and otherwise famous as the captain of the Beagle on which Darwin made his voyage to South America and the Galapagos Islands.
FitzRoy, responding to a catastrophic storm (the so-called Royal Charter Storm, in the which the ship, the Royal Charter, sunk with the loss of over 400 lives), developed a system of local barometers and telegraphic warnings, which developed into the broadcast system we know and love today. While he was about it, FitzRoy also invented the word “forecast” and printed the first ever weather forecasts in the Times.
The shipping forecast dances on the margins of most British people’s consciousness - or anyway on the consciousness of most nice middle class people who listen to Radio 4. It is so important, or so comforting to those of us not on ships in South Utsire or German Bight, Cromarty or Fitzroy, that it is made to interrupt the cricket (if you are listening on Radio 4 long wave), and immediately precedes the evening news. I do not know whether that therefore qualifies it as a phenomenon of interest for those of our students on a deep dive into British culture, but I am keen to develop it as a lesson in some way. You have been warned.