The Weather 

21 November 2022


Cover of Inside BBC Television

From ‘Inside BBC Television: A Year Behind the Camera’, published in 1983

‘When you wake up after a late night shift and ask your wife “what time did the rain start?” it’s like getting the results of a crossword,’ says Jim Bacon, one of the BBC’s weathermen. Jim Bacon loves our weather. But what he likes even more is talking about it. ‘When there’s a big depression in the Mediterranean or a low over Sweden you are bursting to tell people about it,’ he says.

The weather segment of the news is part of the slack in the system. The BBC’s weathermen who include Michael Fish and Bill Giles can either have 50 seconds or 1½ minutes depending on whether a piece of film has arrived or not. When this happens Bacon says: ‘It’s bit like somebody giving you a Christmas present. We ad lib rather than read it off Autocue so it’s not difficult to cope.’

‘We’ve been digesting this stuff all day and there is always far more detail in the weather than we are able to put in. If we’re given more time, it enables us to enjoy ourselves a little bit. Every weatherman is the same. You really have to put a bag over his head to stop him.’

Jim Bacon comes from Feltwell in Norfolk and grew up in the Fen district which he says is like being at sea — ‘there’s an awful lot of sky’. He joined the Meteorological Office on leaving school and cannot think of a more interesting profession than weather forecasting. ‘It is so exciting,’ he says, ‘it has so many different facets. If you think about our weather there is always something different going on from the previous day. It keeps you fresh. I count myself very lucky.’

‘We are all weathermen first and presenters second,’ says Bacon. ‘We are part of the Met Office — we are the mouthpiece. We are not doing the forecasting all on our own. There are an awful lot of people behind the scenes whose work gives us the information we need to present our forecast, although our training enables us to interpret the charts and get a version ourselves. You will not get a forecast unless you have the analysis correct.’


Studio shot of weather presenter at work

Weatherman Jim Bacon giving a lunchtime weather report from a small presentation studio at Television Centre.


Once Bacon had joined the Met he did a degree in meteorology at Reading University and it was while there that he was asked to audition as a BBC weatherman.

Bacon arrives at his small one-window office on the fifth floor of Television Centre at 10 in the morning. Two facsimile machines provide charts and satellite pictures of the whole of Europe transmitted overnight from the Met headquarters in Bracknell. This gives him a picture of the upper atmosphere. More information comes from commercial jets and radio sondes — small weather balloons. A plotted observation map of the British Isles with perhaps 100 pieces of detailed information gives Bacon the picture of British weather up to 12,000 feet.


Weather map

Resting magnetic isobars.


He spends an hour in the morning doing the Atlantic chart which is the first one we see on our screens and 15 minutes each tracing the other two. Before every broadcast he confers with the senior forecasters at Bracknell and at the London Weather Centre in Holborn. Once all this mass of scientific information has been digested Bacon, like all the best trained weathermen, sticks his head out of the window to see what is happening.

‘I often go on to the fire-escape just to get the feel of the weather,’ he says. ‘It can appear quite different from one side of a window to another.’


A man works at a desk

Jim Bacon in his office compiling his weather report from overnight satellite charts.


But if weather forecasting is a capricious business then coping with television weather props, like magnetic isobars, can be even more unpredictable. ‘The trick is to get the right symbols in the right place and make sure they are not going to fall off,’ he says.


Weather man works at a wall map

The magnetic isobars being put into place half an hour before the lunchtime weather report.


Weather map props

The weatherman’s filing cabinet for all seasons.



Text: Rosalie Horner
Editing: Ruth Rosenthal
Pictures: John Timbers


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