The BBC’s TV chief has pledged to tackle problems with sound on hit dramas such as Happy Valley but admitted it is often “incredibly hard” to identify what went wrong.
Charlotte Moore made the promise following complaints that viewers could not hear the dialogue in the latest series of the Sarah Lancashire drama which was watched by more than 8 million people.
It came two years after another BBC1 drama, Jamaica Inn, generated more than 2,000 complaints about muffled conversations, with its writer admitting there was a “major sound problem”.
Moore said the BBC had issued a new set of guidelines to programme makers to attempt to prevent a repeat of the problem.
“Sound has been a big issue, all of us want to make sure that sound levels are absolutely so people can hear the fantastic work we are doing,” Moore told the Voice of the Listener and Viewer conference in London on Tuesday.
Moore said it was often down to a “unique set of circumstances” when there were problems with sound, and said producers had gone back into the edit suite following complaints about the first episode of Happy Valley to solve the issue.
“After episode one we took everyone back into the edit to really try to make sure, to work very hard to make it crisper and change those levels. It is something we take incredibly seriously,” she said.
But she added: “It is incredibly hard to get to the bottom of where things go wrong. It’s often several circumstances and it’s quite hard to isolate if there is one particular problem. It is often several different problems coming together. Sound is a very exact science.”
Moore said she was currently pulling together all the available advice to help programme makers to do “all those final checks” to make sure there were no problems with sound.
Speaking after her conference appearance, Moore said: “Getting to the bottom [of this] is usually a bringing together of several issues, and that is what we are working on with suppliers to make sure these things don’t happen again. We know how difficult it is – there are multiple reasons.
She added: “We have had a couple of instances of issues where people have felt very strongly. We went straight into the edit to see what we could do. Of course none of us want our drama not to be heard. The will is there from all of us.”
Addressing complaints about sound issues earlier this month, BBC director general Tony Hall said he “took all such complaints seriously”.
Back in 2013, Hall highlighted inaudible dialogue as one of the issues he would look to tackle in one of his first interviews as director general. “Actors muttering can be testing,” he said. “I don’t want to sound like a grumpy old man but I also think muttering is something we could have a look at.”