The tragic events of last Saturday in Leicester, when the owner of Leicester City FC was killed in his helicopter shortly after taking off from the centre of the pitch following the match with West Ham United, have also highlighted a discrepancy in BBC policy. While the coverage of Jemal Khashoggi‘s murder clearly led to a diktat from BBC management to use a single pronunciation in all the output (a diktat followed up to the present by the vast majority of BBC broadcasters), the same courtesy has not been accorded to Mr Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha. Although Radio 4 newsreaders are using one pronunciation – and managing consistency extremely well, especially given the apparent difficulty of interpreting the spelling – just about every sports commentator is using a different one.
I am no longer in a position to judge which of these is a better attempt at the native Thai (and neither is going to be that close), but is it just cynicism on my part to think that Mr Khashoggi was treated in a special way because he, like most of the BBC broadcasters, was a journalist, while Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha was ‘merely’ a businessman? I think back to the death of Diana Princess of Wales, when all the evidence pointed to the pronunciation of Althorp being one thing, but the journalists insisted on ignoring the wishes of the Spencer family, when Earl Spencer had recently, including at the funeral, been pointedly critical of the treatment of his sister by the media. In that case, it struck me that the mispronunciation was a deliberate attempt to insult the family. All of the BBC hierarchy at the time will of course deny this as a case of sour grapes because my advice was not followed; however, in my absence on leave, my deputy was instructed by the then head of Libraries and Archives, whose qualifications were more suited to managing premises (which had been his previous post), to issue the ‘wrong’ pronunciation as our advice, with the not very veiled threat that she would face serious consequences if she refused, and a member of the BBC department of Editorial Policy asked me why we should take any notice of the wishes of a member of the effete (his word) aristocracy.