The NAB Blog

Tomartoes, Tomaytoes, Potartoes, Potaytoes

By Nicolas Soames

1 July 2010

We get, I am glad to say, a steady stream of appreciative reviews from critics (professional and amateur), in newspapers, magazines, internet sites as well as on podcasts and radio; and it must be said, not a few letters from individuals who have enjoyed particular recordings. Keep them coming!

Sometimes, praise is leavened with blame. ‘What a wonderful reading of xxx… but I would like to point out that in the booklet, on the 9th track point of CD 25, I think there is a missing comma.’

‘Why, thank you,’ I always say, on the basis that the listener must care a lot to pay such detailed attention to every aspect of a 30-hour unabridged classic.

But generally the comments are meant well – and are true! Here is a selection of press cuttings from the past few weeks:

Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook focuses on the deeply divided feminine psyche: political stance, sexuality, relations with women friends and maternal persona. Superbly read by Juliet Stevenson, it needs to be revisited as women struggle today.
Christina Hardyment, The Times

Ford Madox Ford’s The Good Soldier, a novel of desire, cruelty, madness and the rigid snobbery of the Edwardian era… Kerry Shale’s performance is intimate and compelling… A performance of such sustained quality as Shale’s would be garlanded with awards in any other medium, but it is the fate of audiobook readers to be unheralded.
Karen Robinson, The Sunday Times

At last, the baffling complexities of the Wars of the Roses unravelled, and a battle-by-battle guide to Shakespeare’s history plays. I need fret no longer whether it was in Henry IV Part 1 or Henry VI Part 3 that Suffolk betrayed Gloucester or Salisbury ratted on York. Junior versions of the classics are so much clearer.
Sue Arnold, The Guardian

And then there are the comments from fans of Richard Armitage’s reading of Georgette Heyer’s Venetia and Sylvester. Fulsome, I think you can call it. Even, the dedicated US audiobook site, is overwhelmed:

Armitage’s fully-voiced performance is simply amazing and listeners will only regret that he did not read the entire text instead of an abridgment, albeit, an excellent abridgment… classic regency romances, combined with Naxos technical expertise and most appropriate musical interludes is absolute heaven.

Thank you very much. We love it. But it does help, because inevitably we get very involved in the minutiae of a project and sometimes we are in danger of not seeing the wood for the trees. We may worry about small things such as little noises, or human activity such as breaths (yes, actors have to breathe).

Even the news readers on BBC Radio 4 leapfrog over the consonants

Or pronunciations – now here is a corner of audiobook quicksand. Most producers have their pronunciation hobby horses. One of mine is the pronunciation of ‘t’ in ‘Britain’ or ‘written’. This often gets lost in contemporary diction and it touches my button. I was producing, recently, an excellent reader who also happens to be a very fine writer – educated, articulate and imaginative. We started off and within the first paragraph he alighted upon ‘written’ but not for long enough, so it sounded more like ‘wri’en’.

I pressed down the button on the talkback and asked him to do the sentence again. Maybe, I thought, it was just early in the day. But no, there it was again, ‘wri’en’. Oh. So I asked him, politely, if he could ‘touch the ‘t’ a bit more… after all, we are primarily a label for the classics. He was a bit bemused.

‘I have been saying it like that for 30 years,’ he muttered (we have very sensitive microphones).

‘Well, not on Naxos AudioBooks you don’t,’ I said, slight grandly (though without the talkback button down!).

He did say it again, and it sounded fine to me. So he can do it, I thought!

And for the next week, everywhere I went, I heard it. Bri’ain. Bri’en (as in Benjamin). Good heavens! After all, the composer has not one but two ‘t’s, so surely one of them can be pronounced! Same for ‘cotton’ and ‘rotten’.

Yet there they were – politicians, pundits, even the newsreaders on BBC Radio 4 – leapfrogging over the consonants. I know the diction train in Brief Encounter left the platform many years ago to the strains of Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2, but nevertheless it only needs a bit more attention, surely. And then I admonished myself: surely it was time to move on. It was of small consequence.

And then someone who should have known better said ‘Opra’ – meaning not a lady on American daytime television but opera. Opra! What?! That hurt. It really did.

Of course, there are many times when I take the line of least resistance. Take ‘controversy’ (‘CONtroversy?’ ‘conTROVersy?’), and any number of words which have different emphases on either side of the Atlantic. (That is ‘EYEther’ by the way, not ‘EEther’).

It is, I admit, all rather personal. Take ‘formidable’. Any proper BBC-trained actor (of the old school) will say ‘FORmidable’, whereas ‘forMIDable’ is more common. Actually, I don’t mind eyether. But it rattles the cage of director and reader David Timson, he of Sherlock Holmes. And one of our main listeners has a fit every time she hears ‘voluntarily’ as ‘volunTARily’, rather than ‘VOLuntarily’, which is more classically correct but a lot harder to say.

And so we go on. When David Timson started recording Sherlock Holmes, we agreed early on that ‘data’ should be ‘dartar’ not ‘dayta’ because it suited the period; I tried to draw the line with ‘consummate’ (I say ‘CON-sue-mate’ while David says ‘con-SUMM-at’, which I declare not even Noah said), but David wasn’t having any of it and insisted.

So, don’t you go thinking that doing audiobooks is a relaxing number… tempers can fray at the drop of a ‘t’.

Actually, it is so much easier when we do a novel by D.H. Lawrence, because Notts is Notts; or Lorna Doone, where Devonian tones rule; or anything in Scotland, Ireland, Wales. Or Rupert Degas reading The Exploits of Brigadier Gerard because it is so full of franglais that anything goes. It is a relief, I can tell you! Vraiment!

Nicolas Soames

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