telegraph.co.uktelegraph.co.uk - November 13 view article

BBC accused of ignoring viewers after Howards End 'ruined' by loud background music

The BBC has been accused of patronising and ignoring its viewers after complaints its latest Sunday night period drama was drowned out by background music.

Howards End, the corporation’s much-anticipated new drama, was rendered barely audible to some viewers, who complained the levels of sound meant piano music and violins overpowered the characters’ lines.

Calling it “intrusive”, “excessive” and “infuriating”, some licence fee-payers said they spent the hour trying to change the sound levels on their televisions to improve it, or had given up to switch off entirely.

Viewers' grievances come in the wake of numerous other BBC sound problems, with programmes including Jamaica Inn, SS-GB, Brian Cox’s Wonders of the Universe and a range of natural history programmes suffering poor dialogue and noisy background music.

The BBC's version of Howards End was accused of spoiling dialogue with music Credit: BBC

But eight years since it first attempted to tackle the problem with a study into viewers’ experience, the BBC is still besieged with complaints it has failed to solve it.

On Monday, the corporation refused to respond to viewers' opinions, with a spokesman saying only that it would not be commenting or disclosing the number of official complaints it has received. 

External publicists for the programme, which is made by Playground Entertainment, also declined to respond.

One viewer, writing on Twitter, said she had found the Howards End music so loud she may not tune in to the remainder of the four-part series, adding: “Every time people complain to the BBC about loud soundtracks they are patronised and ignored.”

The BBC is airing a four-part adaptation of EM Forster's classic novel Credit: BBC

Numerous people said they had given up on the first episode of the show, confessing they “couldn’t stand the most intrusive and dominating music” and noting: “It seems the BBC has yet again ruined a drama with too loud background music.”

Philip Andrews, commenting on the Telegraph website, said: “I lasted about a quarter of an hour. The sound was awful you couldn't really hear the dialogue clearly because of the jarring background music”

“Another ruined drama by the use of loud inane music,” said another viewer online. “Just when you think it’s stopped, the flaming harp and violins start again.”

“What is it with BBC and sound? Every bl---y series, music over dialogue,” a sixth complained, as Twitter user lamented: “Yet another BBC drama spoiled by muffled sound, made worse by the music drowning out the dialogue.”

Howards End, an adaptation of EM Forster’s novel by Oscar winner Kenneth Lonergan and starring Hayley Atwell and Matthew Macfadyen, was watched by 6.8 million viewers, with a 33 per cent share of the audience for its Sunday night time slot.

Complaints come after at least eight years of apparently concerted effort to improve the sound at the BBC.

In 2009, it vowed to tackle the problem after finding that viewers’ struggles to hear dialogue had become one of its most common complaints.

Launching the BBC Vision's Audibility project to survey 20,000 people about its sound, it identified background music, clarity of speech, unfamiliar accents and background noise during filming as key issues, with television experts later explaining that modern in-built speakers also had an effect.

Rosalind Eleazar as Jacky Bast and Joseph Quinn as Leonard Bast Credit: BBC

In 2011, the then-controller of BBC television Danny Cohen announced a “best practice guide” produced with the results of the study, with dozens of sound tips published on its Academy website.

Three years later, drama Jamaica Inn attracted almost 2,200 complaints about mumbled lines and thick accents, with the House of Lords debating television audio earlier this year. 

Wonders of the Universe, 125 Years of Wimbledon and, this month, the new series of Blue Planet are among the programmes criticised for overbearing soundtracks.

The Telegraph awarded the programme five stars, saying it “radiated quality”, while the Guardian noted its efforts to include “characters of colour” in the Edwardian storyline.

telegraph.co.uktelegraph.co.uk - November 13 view article