Recently, Sara Mendes da Costa of Brighton in the UK was chosen out of nearly 18,500 candidates to become the voice of time for British Telecom’s Speaking Clock.
Want to know what time it is?
If you’re in the UK, you know that all you need to do is dial up the Speaking Clock to find out the exact time of day. This comes from the same country that has talking parking meters, as we have covered in the past. While this concept may seem strange to us over in North America, the British people have had this talking clock system for 70 years. The clock itself started up in July of 1936 and has been telling the time ever since.
About every 20 years or so, a new voice is hired to record for the talking clock. This time around, the person chosen to be the voice of the Speaking Clock was author and part time voice over artist Sara Mendes da Costa from the south of England.
The BBC published a great article about the decision itself, but I happened to hear a telephone interview with Sara on CBC Radio One’s program As it Happens and heard straight from Sara about why she auditioned, her experience, the casting process, and what it means to her to be the voice of time for all British subjects calling in to BT.
Interviewer Carol Off spoke to Sara Mendes da Costa (aired Monday November 20th around 7:15 EST) when I happened to be in the car on a way to a meeting. I was glued to my seat and scribbled down details in the darkness during the 10 minute interview as quickly as my hand could write, not wanting to miss a single detail.
The audition consisted of recording a :10 (ten second) audio file that contained the famous phrase “At the third stroke…” to qualify as an entrant for the contest.
As with every audition, people always want to know why the chosen talent was picked and also what they may have done that was different to help them stick out from other auditions.
Several agencies were involved with the casting. The first company was in charge of filtering through the responses while others down the line including casting agents, television presenters, and even the voice of the Speaking Clock himself, 77 year old Brian Cobby, were involved with the final casting of the new voice. Sara added a friendly “Hello” to the beginning of her recording, something that was not included in the script. Could she have got them at “Hello” just as RenÃ©e Zellweger did Tom Cruise in the Hollywood film “Jerry Maguire”?
The project was in support the BBC’s charity, Children in Need. Ms. Mendes da Costa was not paid for her services, however, she has the enormous honor of being the voice of time and, perhaps, the first voice that someone may ever hear on the telephone. One of the reasons why Sara was so overwhelmed when selected to be the voice of the Speaking Clock is because the very first phone call that Sara made as a child was to the Speaking Clock to find out what time it was, hence, the responsibility she feels as the representative of the Speaking Clock to a new generation of British children and her fellow patriots.
The Speaking Clock was introduced in London, UK and following the success of the clock went nation-wide. Telephonist Jane Cain was the first voice, replaced in 1963 by Pat Simmons and in 1985 by Brian Cobby. Sara Mendes da Costa replaced Brian Cobby in 2006. More than 70 million calls are made to the service each year.
To listen to Sara talk about her new job, download the file at the BBC website.
Sara, if you’re out there reading this, please leave a comment!