Fish Out of Water

As MOD’s most famous media star, weatherman Michael Fish, hangs up his barometer, he takes a look back on his 42-year career. Interview by Lorraine McBride.

I MUST have done thousands of weather forecasts over the years. It may even run into tens of thousands.

What time I get up, depends on what shift I’m on. Quite often, I get up at four in the morning and start work at five. I don’t normally have time for breakfast. Normally, it’s a case of rushing out of the house at 4am. desperately trying not to wake everyone else up.

We’re based within the BBC Television Centre where the Met Office has a little unit.We don’t get meal breaks, we just grab a sandwich. The shifts are really busy.

We’re at it from the minute we start until I the minute we finish. You may only see one broadcast on BBC1 but behind the scenes, it’s absolutely non-stop, preparing graphics and doing broadcasts seven days a week. The advantage is that we don’t take it home with us.

I had a childhood interest in the weather and decided at a very young age that I would get the qualifications needed to enter the Met Office, which I did in 1962. And here I am. I don’t suppose any children these days can necessarily step straight into the career that they want. But then it was relatively easy providing you had the right qualifications (I had a degree in physics) and you got through the Civil Service Commission’s interviews.

My very first broadcast was in 1974. I can’t remember it vividly but there was no training whatsoever. We were scientists, supposed to do things without any need for training. It was a case of smile and get on with it. Since then, there have been massive changes in meteorology. When I started there were only three broadcasts a day and I used magnetic symbols, which I now use as fridge magnets.

There are 120 broadcasts a day for which we use a very sophisticated computer graphics system. Forecasts are much more accurate these days. Yet, I will always be remembered for the infamous hurricane of ’87 even though it was actually Bill Giles who said that there wouldn’t be one. My comments were made much earlier and had actually been referring to Florida and nothing to do with the UK. But it was such a long time ago that I’ve given up correcting people.

Recognised all over the world

I didn’t become a recognised face in the street overnight because in those days one didn’t do very many broadcasts. It’s only now that we do so many that we get recognised all over the world.

I’ve just got into the office and opened at least 50 letters from viewers, filled with kind comments from people wishing that I wasn’t retiring. We also get requests from school children asking for help with their projects and homework. Others ask for photos and tips on where to go on holiday or where to retire to.

Wherever I go, people ask me for an instant weather forecast, which is a little bit of a nuisance because it’s not something that we’re trained for. That can get a little bit trying on occasions and naturally they all think they’re the first to ask, so I smile sweetly and pretend I’ve never heard it before. Maybe after I retire, I can treat things differently.

I will miss the fact that we’re doing such a good job. My colleagues and I have been responsible for saving thousands of lives, preventing people from going out in small boats in the teeth of a gale; and climbing up mountains with next to nothing on.

When I did my last broadcast, I felt emotional in some ways. But, quite honestly, I really didn’t have time to think about it. I was working 16 or 17 hours and I was knackered. But I am sad because the retirement age is compulsory. There was no way that I wanted to retire.

Since I did my last television broadcast, the press interest hasn’t really stopped. I’ve been to the Palace to collect my MBE and I took my wife and two daughters with me. The Queen asked me what I was going to do in the future and I told her I was hoping to spend time, promoting the issue of global warming and climate change. I’ve met several members of the Royal Family before and without a doubt they’ve watched my forecasts as it affects them as much as anyone.

I’ll just have to wait and see what the future brings. If offers come in for after-dinner speaking, I shall definitely take them up. It will be nice to get away from shift work and I can now do things like go to the theatre and evening classes.

What will I miss most? Just coming to work and the camaraderie. Actually, I’ll miss everything about the job.

Did you know Fishie was part of MOD?
Murielson said:
I will always be remembered for the infamous hurricane of ’87 even though it was actually Bill Giles who said that there wouldn’t be one.
Was Bill Giles that ex-RAF wallah with the handlebar moustache? I think that he was sacked after that episode cos I don't remember seeing him. Shame really, he delivered the weather as it should an O Group, no faffing around.
Had a great exercise immediately after that storm...patrolling around STANTA with no end of pre-dug shellscrapes to choose from :)

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