The Twentieth Century Society

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Intangible Cultural Heritage: UNESCO status for the Shipping Forecast?

Map of the shipping areas of the British Isles, c 1960s

H.M Stationery Office

As the UK Government has confirmed its intention to ratify the 2003 UNESCO Convention for Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, C20 Society has recommended the Shipping Forecast as an ideal nominee. Recognised as being an enduring part of national life and providing a sense of identity to communities across the UK, the broadcast medium of longwave radio and the abstract language used in the forecast are undoubtedly a product of twentieth century modernity.

The radio broadcast celebrates its centenary in 2024 (first broadcast on January 1st 1924), and has woven its way into the fabric of British identity over the past 100 years – from pop-songs to poetry, and the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games.

C20 Director Catherine Croft commented:

“One of the key criteria for Intangible Heritage assets to be included on the UNESCO list is that the activity should ‘contribute to giving us a sense of identity and continuity’ which the shipping forecast certainly does. Initially a utilitarian service for a specific minority, it’s been adopted as a much loved emotional comfort blanket by a broader demographic – who never go to sea. It’s a poetic reverie and symbol of national caring, whilst at the same time a reminder of our geographical isolation and the uncontrollable power of natural phenomena.”

The term ‘cultural heritage’ has changed content considerably in recent decades, partially owing to the instruments developed by UNESCO. Cultural heritage does not end at monuments and collections of objects. It also includes traditions or living expressions inherited from our ancestors and passed on to our descendants, such as oral traditions, performing arts, social practices, rituals, festive events, knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe or the knowledge and skills to produce traditional crafts.

UNESCO’s 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage proposes five broad ‘domains’ in which intangible cultural heritage is manifested:

A consultation has been launched to seek the public’s views on the UK Government’s proposed approach to implementing the convention across the country, with an indicated timeframe of Spring 2024 for ratification in Parliament. Other suggested UK nominations have included pantomine, pub culture, sea shanties, cèilidh and calligraphy.