The BBC is contemplating “a range of problems” that have sparked off a series of adverse comments from viewers and television industry figures about the audibility of some of its dramas. The latest production to attract attention in this way was Quirke, a three-part series of feature length episodes starring Gabriel Byrne as a pathologist in 1950s Dublin.
The first episode drew an average audience of 4.2 million people and 243 complaints. Some TV critics and even writer Andrew Davies, who adapted the drama from the books of John Banville (writing as Benjamin Black), complained that some sequences were so difficult to understand they resorted to watching with the subtitles on.
This comes just over a month since the new version of Jamaica Inn (pictured) received more than 1,000 complaints along similar lines. This was initially blamed on “sound problems” but after objections from some in the audio industry, notably sound recordist and AMPS and BECTU representative Ian Sands, the broadcaster admitted that the mumbling style of some of the actors in Jamaica Inn could also have been at fault.
Following this the BBC said it would investigate all issues involved in the production of the sound for Jamaica Inn. It concluded: “We have thoroughly looked into what caused the sound problems but there isn’t one explanation to single out alone. However, it has highlighted a range of problems that can occur with sound in drama and we would like to reassure audiences that we will learn from this to ensure it doesn’t happen again.”
Unfortunately it has happened again all too soon. Regarding the situation with Quirke, a BBC spokesperson said, “A wide range of factors can influence audibility and we will continue to work with the industry on this important issue.” Ian Sands comments that there were some similarities with Jamaica Inn but praised the mix on Quirke for being “really rather good” in its “earthiness” and use of exaggerated sound effects.
Gabriel Byrne is noted for his naturalistic delivery but Sands does not consider this constitutes mumbling. Quirke was recorded by Simon J. Willis, whose extensive credits in both TV and film include Ripper Street and Game of Thrones, and mixed at Warner Bros. De Lane Lea by Doug Cooper, another experienced sound professional who has worked on da Vinci’s Demons, Casino Royale and Berberian Sound Studio.