With Big Ben falling silent at midday on Monday, we remember the time a young girl offered to ‘BONG’ in place of the chimes and the BBC‘s perfect response.
When the news first broke last year, eight-year-old Phoebe Hanson was so upset she decided to write a letter to the BBC offering her services to shout ‘BONG’ before the news.
A few days later she received an excellent response from an editor of the BBC Radio 4 PM show explaining that he’d passed on her suggestion ‘to those who make the decision’ but warning her of how difficult the task could be.
— UK Parliament (@UKParliament) August 14, 2017
The letter read:
Thank you for your letter and your very imaginative idea about what to do when Big Ben falls silent for repairs early next year. Some of the cleverest and most important people at the BBC are scratching their heads, wondering quite what to do.
Once before, when Big Ben fell silent for repairs, we played different birdsong every evening. The listeners loved that. Then the people behind Tweet of the Day (that’s on each day just before 6 in the morning) stole our idea… so we can’t do that again.
I must say I was very much taken with your idea… and we have passed it on to those who make the decisions. As you know, the Bongs are live… and (you may not know this) the beginning of the Westminster Chimes (the bit that goes BimBom BimBom BimBobBimBom before the first BOOONNNGGGGGGGGGG!) is always at a slightly different time (which is why you sometimes hear someone accidentally talking when they start). It depends on things like temperature and atmospheric pressure and stuff like that.
Turns out Emily would have her work cut out, as the letter continued:
So it would be quite a task for you, doing the Bongs: you’d have to rush in after school each day (and at the weekend), rush home for tea, homework, a bit of chillin’, then a quick sleep.
And then – here’s the hard bit – you’d have to rush back again at midnight, because there are live bongs again before the midnight news. That’s an awful lot of work for someone who is still quite young. I know I wouldn’t like to do all that.
Thank you very much for writing to us. I’m very impressed that you listen to Radio 4. I wish my two children did.
The great bell has marked every hour with almost unbroken service for the past 157 years but from noon next Monday, August 21, it will be silenced until work is completed some time in 2021.
The hammers will be locked and disconnected from the clock for health and safety reasons as work is carried out on the Elizabeth Tower.
The 96-metre-tall tower is already covered in scaffolding as a part of the major renovation project but next week the clock housing will be dismantled.
It is believed that BBC Radio 4 will use a recording of the chimes before news reports during the works.
Though we’re sure we’re not alone in hoping Phoebe gets the chance to do the Bongs, just once, for the Beeb.