Voice of the Speaking Clock
I have to begin by thanking my hairdresser Andy for suggesting this month’s feature. Having recently conspired to supply me with the hair for a fake moustache (a story for another time) Andy has become finely tuned to my singular needs. And when a certain gentleman arrived recently while I was having my usual short back and sides, Andy leaned over and said: ‘Now there’s someone you ought to meet: Brian Cobby, the voice of the Speaking Clock’. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Traditionally a female voice
Since its birth in the early Thirties, BT had always traditionally chosen a female to supply the voice for the Speaking Clock. That all changed in 1985 when Brian was picked from over 5,000 applicants for his clear, warm and sensuous powers of articulation. It took just two days for all the parts to be recorded, but, as he recalled, “someone forget to ask me to say ‘o’clock’, so I was called back to London the next day just to say that!”
Making headline news
At the time (forgive the pun) Brian’s takeover made headline news, and he remembered the publicity surrounding the event:
‘One young female reporter stuck a mike under my nose and said ‘do you think women might be alarmed hearing not a woman’s voice but a man’s??’ I replied, ‘I’d hate to alarm any woman, but I’m sure that by the third stroke they’d have got to like me!’
‘Some people, of course, still actually believe that I’m there all the time. They talk to the clock and wonder why I don’t answer back. I was on my way to a party in Rottingdean once and a lady who recognised me said, ‘but how are they coping without you?’
Brian’s sensual tones in advertising
Such is the appeal of Brian’s sensual tones that back in the Seventies his voice was being recorded for up to three adverts a day (he was once handsomely paid just for saying ‘Stork’), while earlier still in his career, he provided the ‘5,4,3,2,1. Thunderbirds are go!!’ for the cult TV show and even appeared in a saucy movie: The Nudist Story, in 1959.
“It was quite daring for its day”, he explained. “The audience even got to see my bum! Well, I just wanted to show the world I had a beautiful body as well as a beautiful voice!” he laughed.
A reassuring ‘pip pip pip’
By a strange twist of fate, having tracked Brian down for the article, it transpires that he lives directly opposite my flat. The life of a writer can, at times, be a solitary one and giving Brian a salutary wave from my front window now and again heartens my spirit. But of course, if he’s not around to placate those tinges of loneliness, all I have to do now is dial 123 to hear those familiar three pips and that rich, velvety voice: ‘at the third stroke, the time, sponsored by Accurist, will be ten twenty-five and forty seconds pip, pip, pip.’