After Jamaica Inn and ‘Mumblegate’, IPS (UK) calls for better audibility in TV sound reports that audio is a common cause of viewer complaints about television. In 2011 the BBC admitted that “bad sound” was the second most complained about topic on its website. This spring the BBC Academy, the broadcaster’s training and development department, put of figure of 22 percent on the level of protests on the subject. It is also the biggest cause of concern about TV broadcasting among members of the Voice of the Listener and Viewer (VLV), which campaigns on issues affecting public service broadcasting and for quality and diversity programming.

But Jamaica Inn, the BBC’s big drama production over last Easter, created what sound recordist and chairman of the Institute of Professional Sound (IPS), Simon Bishop, describes as a “perfect storm”, involving a number of different elements. The first episode of the three-part adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s novel had viewers contacting the BBC to say they did not understand much of what was being said in the programme.

Initially the BBC blamed this on “issues with the sound levels” and said these would be addressed for the remaining two episodes. When this did not solve the problem, with more than 1,000 complaints received over the three-night run, the broadcaster was forced to concede that a “variety of factors” was possibly responsible. Attention, both on social media and topical comedy shows such as Have I Got News for You, turned to the performance of Sean Harris as wreckers leader Joss Merlyn, whose Cornish accent and mumbling delivery were deemed often incomprehensible.


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