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.

Sara Mendes da Costa Speaking ClockWant 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 Renée 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!

Previous articleIs Voiceover really for you? Read this first.
Next articleThe Importance of Comments on Blogs
Stephanie Ciccarelli is the Co-Founder and Chief Brand Officer of Classically trained in voice, piano, violin and musical theatre, as well as a respected mentor and industry speaker, Stephanie graduated with a Bachelor of Musical Arts from the Don Wright Faculty of Music at the University of Western Ontario. Possessing a great love for imparting knowledge and empowering others, her podcast Sound Stories serves an audience that wants to achieve excellence in storytelling. Stephanie is found on the PROFIT Magazine W100 list three times (2013, 2015 and 2016), a ranking of Canada's top female entrepreneurs, and is the author of Voice Acting for Dummies®.


  1. What a lovely surprise Stephanie.
    It was so great to speak to Carol for CBC Radio yesterday and quite unexpected so to have two Canadian links in such a short space of time, well…wow!
    This is a great honour all round for me, and my feet haven’t touched the ground.
    My uncle is in Hamilton Ontario and he, and others in Canada have been in touch and listened to the programme.
    I’ve never been to Canada myself, but would love to visit. I loved your reference to Jerry Maguire, very clever and funny.
    I will answer your email personally now, but in the meantime, thank you!
    Lovely article.
    Cheers Sara xx

  2. Greetings from New Zealand!
    Just wanted to record my congratulations to Sara for her fantastic win. I think it’s amazing that she has become the voice of the very first telephone service she called as a child!
    Kind regards,
    Andre Mendes da Costa
    (and yes, we are distantly related!).

  3. Hi Sara – remember me?
    We were colleagues on Brighton Life magazine. Just about 20 years ago I’m afraid to say and we somehow lost touch.
    Congratulations on becoming the voice of the speaking clock!
    Eddie Heaton

  4. Sara Mendes da Costa ???? Este nome só pode ser português!!! Se assim for só posso estar feliz por ter uma conterrânea a granjear tanto sucesso por terras de “Sua Majestade”.
    Força Sara, continua assim!
    *Message in Portuguese

  5. May I add my congratulations to Sara. I just caught the announcement of the winner on Children in Need and although I hadn’t been too aware of the competition, the richness and warmth of Sara’s voice stood out leagues ahead of the other finalists.
    Now I will have to buy a less reliable watch!
    I only wished I had realised it was Sara when I walked into the Lewes clock shop this week when I see from the Brighton Evening Argus that she had just finished a photo shoot with Brian Cobby the current voice. Although I immediately noticed her lovely voice I didn’t connect who she was. I should have, as I knew who Brian was from my BT days.

  6. Thank you to Arcindo for the msg, and yes Mendes da Costa is a Portuguese name but I’m afraid I do not speak a word! So I do not understand your msg, so sorry!! Thank you anyway! Cheers Sara x Also, thank you to John for the lovely msg and congratulations. You’ve made my day x

  7. Congratulations Sara. I have been asked I don’t know how many times if you are a relative.
    In our family we do have a story from about the 1940’s of a cousin in Brighton who used to do a great ‘turn’ as Carmen Miranda when he was around 5 years old!
    Best wishes and good luck,
    Elsbeth Mendes da Costa

  8. Thanks Elsbeth! That’s really kind of you. I’ll post a msg to you personally re the MdC’s. Merry Christmas to one and all and thanks once again for your warm wishes.

  9. Hi Sara,
    Don’t know if you remember me. I worked at C.D.S. in Brighton in the eighties and you were a secretary there, my elder brother Dave was a Director there at the time.
    Congratulations anyway – you’ve done really well!
    Chris Harratt


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here