Do you hear what I hear? Yep, a lot of mumbling
I swore it would never happen. I genuinely believed it couldn't possibly happen. And then, the other day, I realised it was actually happening right before my very eyes.
Yes, I was morphing into my father.
It was like a Gogglebox audition. "Can you understand a word they're saying?" I asked my wife as the latest flagship drama poured its gothic vision on to the screen. "Is it me, or are they mumbling?"
As it turned out, I was certainly not alone in finding the BBC's much-heralded period drama Jamaica Inn almost impossible in places to decipher.
Hundreds picked up the phone to complain about inaudible dialogue. And for every hundred who actually took the trouble to moan, you can bet there were thousands more who felt the same, but couldn't be bothered to call.
BBC chiefs apologised for what they described as sound issues affecting the first episode. But despite attempts to rectify it, viewers still had problems understanding the broad West Country accents in the next two episodes, and it's no surprise the show lost a third of its initial audience.
Apparently, though, the blame doesn't lie at the actors, directors or producers. No, it's the fault of us, the viewers, for buying the wrong sort of TV sets – flat-screen monitors with speakers that face the wall or the floor.
Funny, then, how I have no trouble whatsoever hearing the decibel-busting commercials on the other side, which have to be turned down . . .
So I'm sorry BBC. It's not sound quality that's the problem, it's composition and diction. More and more actors seem to be allowed to just mumble an approximation of their lines without being hauled up by the director, and the viewer is left struggling to keep up.
Thinking back on it, I had the same issue with the last series of crime drama Luther, struggling to understand what the heck David O'Hara was muttering about. Remember him? He was the obsessive undercover man, brought back from retirement and scheming in an underground shop unit, prepared to stop nothing to ensure that Luther answered for crimes of the past. At least I think that's what he said.
Arty-farty programme makers talk these days of wanting the music soundtrack to conflict with the dialogue, so you don't know which to listen to. Unbelievably, it's a deliberate ploy. They also reckon there's a 'trend for more naturalistic dialogue' in TV dramas these days.
Anything goes, you mean. Pull the other one; you just can't be bothered to go back and re-shoot it.
I'm with sound engineer Mark Hensley, who says: "Young directors thing they're going to change the world, and the way things are done by being all artsy, edgy and different. 99.9 per cent of the time it's a big fail."
The solution is simple. Just tell actors to stop mumbling and speak clearly. That's their job. Then we can all enjoy the dialogue in a script which was presumably the reason they signed up for the project in the first place.
I suppose we shouldn't be entirely surprised at this mess. What can we expect from a new breed of actors and technicians brought up in a world of abbreviated text-speak, where punctuation and spelling are themselves words which could have been plucked from a period drama.
There I go again, back in full-on father mode . . .
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