IN ALDOUS HUXLEY’S Brave New World, controlling unrest is very different to the ‘With a loud voice command’ of the 1714 Riot Act:
The Voice is a sexless ‘it’ but in the 1930s when Brave New World was first published, nearly all voices ordering or informing adults were those of men. As described in Anne Karpf’s book The Human Voice: The Story of a Remarkable Talent, women’s voices were judged to be too ‘shrill’ and lacking in gravitas for public announcement.
By the 1970s, however, women announcers had become common in supermarkets and department stores. Actress Stephanie Gathercole provided the brisk and efficient lift voice for the opening credits of the BBC sitcom Are You Being Served?:
Lift voices are one of those helpful features which now no longer seem to exist in any London department store, although one survives in the British Library:
Elsewhere in settings as diverse as buses, train stations and chain stores of every description, women’s voices are now the preferred option for recorded announcements. It’s a significant change in the public sound environment compared to just thirty years ago. Even the Eurofighter’s ‘voice command feature’ is described by a test pilot thus:
The nickname suggests that the tones are those of a woman older than the average fighter pilot. It might also be an ambivalent acknowledgement that critical alerts delivered in a woman’s voice get better compliance.
So too for recorded announcements in general. Chauvinism has given way to the realisation that using women’s voices is now effective in telling people what to do.