In response to a comment made by Michael Lamb to my last post, I blame the producers. There was a time, and I hope that in radio that time is also now, when scripts were sent or taken by hand to the Pronunciation Unit for one of its members to go through and add helpful hints to words we thought might be problematical. Often our advice was taken, but sometimes you found that actors, for instance, would think that their version “sounded better”.
I remember that when Ibsen’s play “The Emperor and the Galilean” was recorded for BBC Radio 4, the actors insisted that /gæliˈleɪən/ sounded ‘better’ than /gæliˈliːən/, completely ignoring the fact that /gæliˈleɪən/ is the usual pronunciation of the adjective formed from Galileo, and so moving the action and subject of the play from 1st century Judea to 17th century Italy. Likewise, one of my colleagues spent many hours compiling a comprehensive list of character and place names for Radio 4’s dramatisaion of War and Peace, only for the actors to ignore it completely, leading to a reviewer being highly critical of the production for the inconsistency and inaccuracy of the pronunciations throughout. This was in the days when we were forced, under John Birt’s idiotic ‘Producer Choice’ to charge enquirers £10 per “word, name or short phrase”. The producer then complained to me that she could have hired a Russian graduate much more cheaply and more satisfactorily, thereby insulting my colleague, who was herself a Russian graduate. Had the producer in both these cases exerted their authority, and insisted the performers follow the advice so expensively provided, much better productions would have resulted. Producers are too timid – they hire so-called experts, and as Michael says, believe that they are experts in all aspects of the subject, including pronunciation. Clearly Richard Miles is not.