“May I have your attention please? The train leaving platform one is the 8:15am to London Waterloo….”
There is something really rather comforting in listening to the sounds of a train station announcement by a British female voice over artist, isn’t there? Always warm, always welcoming. Never frantic or rushed when inevitable delays impact travel plans or the wrong kind of weather puts paid to a journey. While the letters on the departure board noisily clickety-clack, a rail announcer's voice brings a sense of calm amid the chaos of a packed station hall.
And, far from being a throwaway voice reading a mundane list of towns and cities, it seems these announcements are, in fact, much loved - almost as much as the trains themselves. There are sites devoted to finding specific rail announcement recordings, while over on YouTube, fans can be found reciting versions they’ve faithfully remembered by heart. There is even a website where you can generate your own rail announcements from a selection of destinations and instructions to passengers. Many of those who have lent their voices to these automated messages are well known and revered among fans.
But, there is one mystery that’s been haunting this devoted community for some time; who is “Only Woman”?
Apparently, this particular automated voice over was given the name “Only Woman” because all of her announcements used to include the word ‘only’ after announcing the list of stations the train would call at. For example, “….calling at Southampton, Winchester and London Waterloo, only.”
It’s not surprising, given my profession and the fact I have voiced a fair few travel-related projects in my time, that I am quite regularly asked if I am the voice of “Only Woman”. Alas, due to contractual obligations, that is something I can’t deny or confirm.
But it’s wonderful to know how much comfort and pleasure these announcements bring; I, too, fondly remember train journeys up north to visit my grandparents, the last stop being Retford. After alighting (great word!), I loved hearing the wonderful northern accents around me, so different from the RP sounds of home. It is amazing how the auditory memory can take us back to a place in time so vividly.
So, while I can’t unfortunately solve the Only Woman mystery, may the intrigue that surrounds her last as long as the love of our country’s wonderful rail announcements.