I was on BBC breakfast today as they had picked up on an item in the Daily Mail bemoaning the frequency of announcements on trains. It was an easy target. There are, as I have mentioned before, far too many announcements. The worst, of course, are the automatic ones warning you to take your luggage with you and to read the safety notices.
On stations, it can be even worse. At Hull recently, we were bombarded with announcements every minute or so ranging from the standard ‘don’t leave bag unattended’ to warnings about slippery floors – this on a sunny day in June.
However, interestingly, the emailers to the BBC were very split on the issue. While many agreed, a substantial number did not, arguing that the announcements were useful and necessary. I appeared on the programme with Jeremy Deller, the Turner prize winner, who has published a little book of sayings for London Underground train drivers to read out to their bored passengers. He made a telling point, which sums it up, saying that these announcements ‘infantilised’ us all, by implying we were all morons unable to pick up our bags or to realise that the doors would not open till ‘the train came to a complete stop’ – as opposed to a partial stop.
Indeed, it is partly about language, partly about repetition. Of course the needs of people with special needs should be recognised and catered for, but there is no possible justification for the sheer volume of noise on the trains. If the announcements were in Good English, and were varied and even informative – such as the viewer who complimented the (foreign) train guard who told people to watch out for the sunset out of the left hand window – then they would be bearable. I liked the suggestion from a vox pop interviewee who suggested that one carriage should be announcement free.