Jamaica Inn: BBC drama chief says sorry and admits 'there's a problem'

Controller says corporation is looking into issue that prompted hundreds of viewers to complain they couldn't hear dialogue

The BBC's drama chief has apologised after nearly 800 people complained about inaudible dialogue in drama Jamaica Inn, admitting: "If no one can understand what they're saying, then there's a problem."

Ben Stephenson, the BBC's controller, drama commissioning, said the corporation was looking into the sound issues which plagued the first episode of the Daphne du Maurier adaptation, which began on BBC1 on Monday night.

Despite efforts to improve the sound quality in Tuesday's second episode, nearly 300 more people complained after its broadcast night, taking the total number of complaints to 798 by Wednesday morning.

Stephenson said: "I think actors not being clear is one part of it, but my understanding about the complaints about Jamaica Inn was more complex than that, so I think it's probably not right to just single out that, but clearly we want actors to speak clearly."

"Of course we want them to give brilliant performances and you've got to respect that, but if no one can understand what they're saying, then there's a problem," Stephenson told BBC News.

The BBC indicated it still did not know what the exact cause of the problem was, with a "variety of factors" that could be to blame.

The cast's strong West Country accents also played a part, with the dialogue of domineering uncle Joss Merlyn, played by Sean Harris, particularly hard to distinguish.

People who worked on the show suggested on Twitter that it was a problem that arose between recording and transmission. "The location recording was fine," said sound engineer Matt Gill on Twitter.

The first episode of the drama was watched by 6.1 million viewers but by its second outing on Tuesday it had plummeted to just 4.5 million.

The concluding episode will air on BBC1 on Wednesday evening.

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John Plunkett

The GuardianTramp

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