December 20, 2005

Pace attack

The BBC Weather Centre Manager
BBC TV Centre
Wood Lane
London W12 7RJ

Dear Sir/Madam

I wonder if I might seek your opinion on the status of a outstanding query I have with the BBC Online weather forecasting service.

This offers a five-day weather forecast which one can access by inputting the postcode for a given area. Being a cricket fan, and the weather forecast being integral as to whether or not play is likely in a cricket match, I am naturally interested in the weather for Lord's Cricket Ground which is in the postcode area NW8. However, when I attempted to input that code, much earlier this year, I was given, much to my surprise, the following message:
Postcode searches must include all letters and numbers of the first part of the postcode. No locations were found for "nw8".
This took me aback since I have been going to Lord's for more than thirty years and it has been in the NW8 postcode area all this time. No matter, I thought: I shall contact the service, using the feedback form provided, and they will surely address the problem. My confidence was boosted by my receipt of a same-day reply:
Thank you for bringing this to my attention, we will be working on the postcode problems very soon, I have passed this onto the technical team

Duty Producer
BBC Weather Centre
That was on 6 April: the cricket season began two days later (hence my interest at that particular time) with the traditional match between MCC and the Champion County. The first day, as it happens, was lost to bad weather, with freezing temperatures and - if memory serves - snow. I didn't expect the problem to be solved by then (fortunately, I decided not to attend the first day anyway) but I was surprised, given the use of the term "very soon", that it remained unresolved a fortnight later, and on 20 April sent another email on the subject. This received no response.

On 18 May I sent another message, which was favoured with no fewer than three responses at various levels. The first read thus:
Your email has been forwarded to the BBC Weather Centre.
The second, an automated reply, began:

Thank you for contacting the BBC Weather Centre. Your feedback and comments are both welcome and important.
The third, clearly from an actual human being but not alas one with a name, said:
Good afternoon ejh

I'm aware of some problems with the postcode search but thank you for bringing this to my attention. We have set aside development time for this problem and will fix it as soon as humanly possible


Duty Producer,
BBC Weather Centre

"As soon as humanly possible". Naturally I assumed that the use of this term meant that it would in some way be addressed as soon as humanly possible, which it apparently was not. Within a week the First Test at Lord's between England and Bangladesh had come and gone (I had tickets for the third day, which was shortened not by the weather but by the ineptitude of the visiting side's batsmen, which degree of ineptitude apparently rivals your own). On 5 June, I contacted you again, asking:

Dear Sir/Madam

Do you have any idea as to when "as soon as humanly possible" is likely to be?

On 16 June I received a reply:
Thank you for your email with regards to the problem you are having accessing the forecast for your postcode. We are sourcing the latest post code data, which will fix this problem. In the meantime you can access your forecast by typing in your town name. Sorry for any inconvenience this has caused.
One notes, in retrospect, the absence of an use of the word "soon" or any synonyms thereof. The advice to input the town name was kindly meant, no doubt: unfortunately, it doesn't work. (Possibly the system fails to recognise St or something). I emailed back to point this out: no reply was received.

On 5 July, perhaps mindful of the approaching Ashes series, with the first Test to be played at Lord's, I tried again:
This problem remains unfixed, three months after I reported it.
and when after three weeks (and the first Test been and gone) your service was still silent, I tried again:
Nearly four months on, this problem has still not been addressed.
Mirabile dictu, a same-day reply, and from a real person, F! She wrote:
Thank you for your email. Unfortunately this wasn't a simple problem (although it may seem like it). Please bear with us while we set this up.

Kind Regards

Well, if it were not a simple problem, it would have been as well to tell me that when claiming that it would be done "soon", or "as soon as humanly possible", but no matter. I did indeed bear with you, until 22 August, when I sent another email to which no reply was given:
This remains unfixed.
It remained unfixed by 11 September, when the last fixture of the season was played at Lord's - and indeed when the cricket season ended on 25 September. On 26 September, realising that there were fewer than seven months until the next season and that there was therefore no time to lose, I tried again:
Do you think I could have an honest explanation as to why this hasn't yet been fixed?
I got a reply from another unnamed Duty Producer:

Hi ejh,

We are working on this problem and hope to have it and other mapping issues resolved by the end of October.


Well, short though my patience was by now, I nearly made it through to the end of October before enquiring again. On 25 October, I observed:
The end of October is practically upon us.
So it was: and once again, there was some celerity in replying to my message, if not (alas) in actually dealing with the problem. I had an email from C:

Dear ejh

Thank you for your email. I have checked with the web team, and they have confirmed that they now have an update to the postcode database and are working with the Met Office to add new postcodes as soon as possible. It is a priority, but as we mentioned before, not a simple job.

No doubt: it certainly seems not to have been "humanly possible" to resolve the problem in the eight months and more since I drew it to your attention. Nor indeed to respond to my subsequent emails on 17 November, 1 December and 14 December, the last of these asking if I could possibly have the name and address of an identifiable individual to whom I could send a complaint. Apparently, I could not: I had to contact the Met Office in Exeter just to get the address to which I have sent this letter.

Now, I know that it is, in some ways, a trivial problem. I also know that I could get a suitable weather forecast by entering the postcode of an adjoining area, or perhaps by entering Marylebone in the appropriate field where St John's Wood will not work. But I do wonder whether it is really necessary to take more than eight months in order to fail to resolve this problem, or whether the period of time it takes is really compatible with the claims that were made at the outset, that it would be resolved "very soon" or "as soon as is humanly possible". I really don't like being fobbed off at the best of times and fobbing someone off for a period in excess of eight months doesn't really do the BBC Weather Centre any credit unless it is an attempt to set some sort of record. (If so, I would be grateful to know what record is actually being aimed at, so that I know how long this is likely to continue.) Nor am I entirely amused by the number of my emails that have been ignored, especially the one asking who I should have to write to in order to pursue this complaint properly.

As the target of "the end of October" has eluded us, I wonder whether it would be possible to set a new one? The first match at Lord's in the
2006 season begins on Friday 14 April, just 373 days after I first raised this problem with your people. The MCC play Nottinghamshire, the Champion County. I do not know whether or not I am likely to attend, but I would like to be rather less doubtful that by that time, this problem will have been resolved. Or, if not, that we revise our opinions of the limits of human capacity, if this is not, in fact, "humanly possible".

In the meantime, I suppose I would appreciate some sort of explanation for the various nonsenses that I have been told, not to mention the numerous occasions when I have been told nothing at all. To be honest it is hard to know which of these two dismal options I prefer.




At December 20, 2005 1:25 pm, Anonymous lenin said...

You've been reading The Trial, haven't you?

At December 20, 2005 5:07 pm, Anonymous F said...

Your letter did wind Colin, my colleague, up.
Dampened his spirits before the Christmas party, into a depression I'd say.
We've had floods of complaints and I'm sorry you found our site a wash-out.
We are only t-rained to deal with the weather.

At December 21, 2005 9:56 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I realise your problem is with the BBC's awful response, but just in case you are really pining for an NW8 forecast, you can get one here (I think that is specifically for St John's Wood)

Perhaps not as nice as the BBC's, but if you use the Forecastfox extension for Firefox (, you could have the weather in NW8 sitting in the corner of your browser

At December 31, 2005 6:45 am, Blogger Mark K said...

It's not exactly Kafka. As someone commented in response to this post of mine, "Get a life sweetheart."

At January 09, 2006 12:13 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

or look on It's more reliable than the BBC anyway.


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