Friday, February 5, 1999 Published at 14:15 GMT
In praise of the pips
Pip ... pip ... pip ... pip ... pip ...
It is 75 years since the six pips of the Greenwich time signal first beeped across the BBC radio airwaves and into listeners' homes.
Nonetheless the pips hold a special place in BBC radio presenters' hearts.
Nowhere is this more evident than among the anchors on Radio 4's morning news programme Today. Mention the 'P' word and there is a definite misting of the eyes, even a lump evident in the throat.
'I love the pips'
"I love the pips and know how important they are. They are amazingly BBC, the co-junction of sight and sound in the pursuit of unsurpassed public broadcasting," she says nostalgically.
"I crashed the pips," she gasps. "Not having been warned of their importance, I strayed over onto their hallowed ground. When I came off air, the rest of the team said 'We knew you would do it!'. They had even been taking bets."
Sue MacGregor has been with Today since 1984 and to her "enduring shame" admits to having trespassed into pip territory two or three times in her career.
But although bowing to their control, Sue points out that they are as fallible to mishaps as their human slaves.
All BBC Radio presenters who have crashed will testify to having learnt an unforgettable lesson. Outside the BBC too, pip precision seems something of a preoccupation.
'The knell of doom'
Today presenter James Naughtie has been with the programme since 1994 but tells a sobering tale from his time on the lunchtime programme the World at One.
"I was strolling into the studio without headlines because they weren't finished, thinking I had a couple of minutes to go ... and heard the dread sound of the pips starting. I had to run to the chair and do the headlines from memory.
On occasion, of course, this has been close to the truth. The pips have preceded some the saddest announcements in history from the invasion of Poland in1939 to the death of Diana Princess of Wales in 1997.
The bongs of Big Ben
Elsewhere in BBC radioland, it is not the pips that bring fear - it is the bongs of Big Ben. The team of the PM programme have to leave the airwaves sharpish at 17.59.33 to let the clock do its stuff.
"We think we've got the hang of it now which means, inevitably, that any day now, we shall be bonged out of existence."
"We have 18 seconds of pips and they are the best part of the programme. I propose we extend them by two hours and 42 seconds. I could stay in bed and the public would have a more satisfying broadcast," he says.
TV and Radio