Voice of the Speaking Clock

This is one of a series of articles by David Bramwell published in the Insight between 2001-2004. David Bramwell is the author of the Cheeky Guide to Brighton.

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.’

Comments about this page

  • Is it possible to get David Bramwell to ask Brian Cobby if he was a BBC continuity voice? I have a recording of a trail for Doctor Who from 1967 and it sounds exactly like Brian Cobby. Incredibly so. But I can’t find anything other than that he was an actor. It most likely is him, but Brian would know for sure.

    By Vince Tennant-Tavares (18/08/2006)
  • And now it’s congratulations to another Brighton and Hove resident who has also been chosen to be the new voice of the speaking clock Sara Mendes da Costa!

    By Jacqui Andrews (22/11/2006)
  • I recall my ex-wife worked with Brian when he was a telephone operator in North Road, Brighton. I was intrigued when she reported that she worked with the voice of the speaking clock. That was around 1982/3.

    By Martin Scrace (04/02/2009)
  • I used to be Brian Cabby’s agent from 2000 until 2005, he was not a BBC presentation announcer for the BBC but he was the voice of “THUNDERBIRDS” “5,4,3,2,1… Thunderbirds are go!” line in 1964. Brian also was well known for television advert voice overs in the 1960s for ITV and was one of very few well known voices used at that time. Brian did voice a “monster”, The Oroog, in Doctor Who for the company BIG FINISH called Doctor Who – The Creed of the Kromon in 2003 with Paul Macaan. Big Finish provided audio dramas when the programme came off the air in 1989 and still provide such audio dramas with the Old Doctors with the new version television show being transmitted since 2005. A funny wit of a man who likes a Martini – shaken not stirred. As far as I know he still lives in Vernon Terrace.

    By Marc Sinclair (08/06/2009)
  • Both Brian and Sara Mendes da Costa, the lady who became the next speaking clock, were fond of the Melrose Restaurant on the corner of Preston Street and Regency Square. There is a wonderful photograph of them together there which is usually proudly displayed somewhere on the premises.

    By Shan Lancaster (07/04/2011)
  • Sad I am to learn of Mr Cobby’s passing. However, he was not the “5-4-3-2-1” voice on ‘Thunderbirds’. That fame belongs to the late actor Peter Dyneley who played Jeff Tracy throughout the series and two feature films, and is so credited on the programmes, and all the series publicity. Gerry Anderson who produced the show in 1964 claims never to have heard of Mr Cobby.

    By Rosalyn Connors (09/11/2012)
  • Brian Cobby was a professional actor, but I knew him when we worked together at North Road Telephone Exchange.  When the competition to find a new voice of the speaking clock was announced, Brian and I were both interested (I was, and still am, an amateur actor).  Brian had pretty well decided not to enter, but I persuaded him to try, and also competed myself.  We both did well but he got the nod, and made an excellent job of it.   

    By Bill Colbourne (01/03/2018)
  • I knew Brian when I lived off the Seven Dials and we shared the same park (st Anne’s wells) for walking our dog/s, (he had two small, fearsome papillon) and we shared the same laundrette. We really hit it off, and I realised after a few meetings that the reason I thought I knew him ‘from somewhere’ was that of course I was familiar with his voice. He was a lovely man.

    By Judy Barrow (12/09/2020)

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