Since I’ve started working in Audio Description (AD), I’ve noticed that I become ‘twitchy’ when watching a TV programme at home and there’s a lot of silence. My work mind whirrs into action, I watch the scene and start scripting in my head…and then, I relax, as I realise, I’m not at work. And that’s when you realise you’re a bona-fide Audio Describer.


Here’s a typical day:


8AM – It’s the start of my 10-hour shift, and first up is a soap. I get up to speed by looking at the programme ‘template’, reading recent synopses, and browsing the screenshots of new and established characters. As soaps change so frequently, it’s commonplace to consult with colleagues to establish who’s now dating who, and the devious machinations of the latest baddie who’s in-vogue. I view the programme on the AD software, marking where I want descriptions to be, and writing the script. Once it’s complete, I hand it over to an Audio Describer, who voices the descriptions in a booth then delivers the file for broadcasting.


11AM – I’m asked to work on a documentary. It’s impossible to gauge how long any programme will take to script, and documentaries are no different. Turns out with this one that it’s fairly ‘light’ description-wise, but I have to check pronunciations online for unusual words cropping up that aren’t in the dialogue. In addition, there are in-vision subtitles, so these have to be transcribed and voiced within the AD script (it may sound obvious, but people do blink with surprise when you remind them that blind people can’t read type on-screen.)


2.15PM – After lunch, I re-version a programme. This involves cutting out descriptions if the programme’s duration has been edited from post-watershed to pre-watershed, or adding new descriptions in if the programme has extra content.


3.15PM – A nature documentary is next on the stack. There’s little dialogue, so it’s time to crack out the creative writing skills to adequately describe wildlife in their natural habitats, apricot hued sunsets, and verdant vistas that almost inevitably feature in the likes of an Attenborough programme. Then I’m asked to put it on the backburner, because…


5.00PM – A late delivering current affairs show has just arrived. It transmits that evening, and the pressure is on to get it scripted, voiced, and delivered ASAP. We each script 15 minutes of the programme. Once the first part has been scripted, a Describer starts voicing the descriptions, while we carry on scripting. Questions flow back and forth across the office as we cross-check characters’ names and locations with each other. The Production Manager calls Playout as soon as the file’s delivered to check they’ve received it for transmission that evening.


6PM – With the late delivery safely in the hands of Playout it’s hometime. I’m back in the morning at 8am, when it’s time to return to the nature programme I was working on earlier in the afternoon…verdant vistas, here I come…


Do you have any questions about what it’s like to be an audio describer? Let me know on Twitter @mary_sweeney.