The issues of being able to hear the words on some TV drama shows is again in the news, the latest show to be criticised is the new BBC drama SS-GB.
The list is almost endless with complaints about shows such as Jamaica Inn, Taboo, and Happy Valley to name just some UK shows. Sadly the BBC executives seem to trot out the same response each time which is that they will take a look at the levels. This response shows a complete lack of understanding of the issue and lays the blame at the door of the sound mixers - often it is not their fault.
If the dialogue lacks intelligibility due to the style of the delivery or accent then reaching for the remote is pointless, as in many cases is sending it back to post-production to try and fix.
Take Taboo for example, are we really wanting Tom Hardy to start delivering his lines as if he were Laurence Olivier or a BBC continuity announcer from the 1940s? I'm not sure we are, TV drama is about authenticity, be that the set, the costumes, and the delivery of the carefully crafted lines.
Drama shows such as The Wire and Taboo are richer for their use of authentic dialect and the delivery of those lines - to suggest the actors suspend the sonic reality of their characters to make every line audible to every possible listener is frankly absurd.
Speech intelligibility in drama is a complex subject which often seeks to attribute blame rather than to try and find a solution. If we wish to make the dialogue in drama as authentic as possible then perhaps it is time to consider adding subtitles, just as we do when someone uses a foreign language in a TV show?
Or is it time to make an announcement at the start of some shows just as we do about flashing lights, sex, and violence that some listeners may need to turn on the subtitles to enjoy the show?