By Sam Fraser

Surviving a Stereotype

Fast forward to 2012. I’ve learnt my lesson. I understand the bosses are not looking for a stand up comedian. They are looking for someone who can assimilate information and repackage it for an audience in accessible language. They are looking for someone engaging and trustworthy.

Meteorological qualifications are not strictly necessary, according to the initial advert. Which is great, because I have absolutely none (unless you count my stint as Weather Monitor). I can barely pronounce the word ‘meteorological.’ Though I can spell it confidently.
I know there will be an expectation of at least a basic understanding of the weather and that I may even be required to deduce the forecast from some synoptic charts, so I practise deciphering the wiggly lines with triangles and semi circles attached to them which are sent down by the Met Office to all BBC regions daily, matching them to the weather scripts sent in to the station.
In addition, I buy myself a copy of the Dorling Kindersley Pocket Guide to Weather and start the process of memorising it in its entirety.
It is true to say that, even when all you’re doing is reading a weather bulletin at the end of the radio news, people assume you have a background in meteorology. I like to think the skills I developed on my MA in Theatre and Performance studies are what has convinced my colleagues that I am in fact a fully paid up member of the Royal Meteorological Society. I can bluff my way in most areas convincingly: “Occluded front? Think of that as a warm air mass sandwich. Anti cyclonic? Clockwise winds, naturellement!” I trill.
But occasionally I come a cropper. From time to time I am asked questions I cannot answer. Once, following a period of high winds, a listener had sent in a picture of her mobile home. It was extensively damaged. The roof had caved in and there was debris all around.
“Sam!” came a voice across the newsroom, “Woman’s sent in this photo. Wants to know if there’s been a tornado at the caravan park at Milford-on-Sea?” Hm. A tornado.
My knowledge of tornadoes at this point is derived entirely from The Wizard of Oz.
“Tell her to look out of the window,” I yell back. “If there’s a pair of sparkly, ruby slippers poking out from under the shed, then yes, there’s been a tornado!” A little mirth travels around the office.
“No, but really? Has there been one?”
In my spare time I browse the internet, boning up on why the south east of the UK is drier than the south west. I learn about the impact of seasonal variation in the water uptake patterns of vegetation. I force myself to read scholarly articles about the jet stream. I do not remember any weather presenters in my childhood ever referring to the jet stream. It’s quite possible, it seems to me, that we didn’t have one back then. That it is an invention of the new millennium, like iphones and gluten free brownies. There certainly was no magnetic jet stream icon to stick on the steel map of the British Isles. Or if there was, I never saw Bill Giles wrestle with it.
I analyse the ways in which local topography influences temperatures and precip. I start using the term ‘precip’ instead of ‘precipitation’ to make myself sound more authentic.
I only have to keep all this stuff in my head for the duration of the interview, I reason. Then it can all just drop out to be replaced with my preferred content, namely The Archers’ storyline, new West End musicals and what Saga Noren is wearing in the ‘The Bridge.’
The day of the interview approaches. My brain is aching with detail. When I go to bed each night, I close my eyes and occluded fronts pass before them. I have a picture of Ian McCaskill on my bedside cabinet. I kiss it every night in the week leading up to the ordeal.
I have bought myself a new outfit for the screen test. It is a purple, fitted dress with an asymmetric neckline.
I do not know it yet, but, of all the preparations I have made, this is the most important.
Because at the end of the interview in which I have managed to regurgitate huge tracts of weather related science (met, I might add, by a bewildered silence from the two - just two this time - men conducting the exercise) I receive feedback.
The then TV Editor nods approvingly at me and tells me that, not only do I tell a good story - he’d never heard that stuff about spring vegetation before - but that I ‘look good in that dress.’
It is my turn with the bewildered silence. I stare at him, speechless.
I have been a feminist since 1986.
Yes, I get this is telly and looks inevitably play a part in who makes it to screen, but I wasn’t expecting my appearance to be, you know, actually commented on. Openly. In the twenty-first century. Admittedly this is not yet the #MeToo #HarveyWeinstein twenty-first century - that will come in five years’ time - but it’s still, you know, THE TWENTY FIRST CENTURY.
In the seconds during which I am fixed to the spot looking at my reflection in his glasses, the following thoughts fill my brain:
1. Is there some kind of feminist hotline I can call to get the appropriate and definitive response to this comment? (No.)
2. Will the appropriate and definitive response reduce the likelihood of my being offered the job? (Yes. Although it is the BBC so possibly no.)
3. Am I a female educated in Catholicism to submit to the will of men in authority? (Yes.)
4. Have I been raised by working class parents whose primary concern will be whether or not I have been polite and respectful to somebody who clearly has magical properties, given that he is a senior manager in the BBC? (Yes.)
5. So, do I accept a compliment graciously? (Yes? No? I don’t know.)
6. Is this a compliment? (It might be. He thinks it is?)
7. Should I start a hashtag on twitter? (How do you even do that?)
8. Am I a real feminist if I’m not offended? (Oh god, my credentials are in tatters.)
9. Am I offended? (I’m confused. Is that the same thing?)
Taking my nervous laughter as gratitude, my boss tells me he’ll book me in for training at the BBC weather centre as soon as possible. I’m to be the ‘stand-by’ weather presenter for the region.
I recall that this is how Ulrika Jonsson’s career began. As a stand-by for TV AM back in 1989. Ulrika Jonsson. The charismatic Swede who made the weather forecast addictive. The smiling blonde who revolutionised weather presentation. The woman who gave the UK a stereotype. Ulrika Jonsson: the original weather girl.
I was joining an exclusive club and it felt exciting and unsettling at the same time. Beneath the asymmetric neckline I’d broken out in hives.

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