– Did you always want to work in Broadcasting?
No, in my early teens I was very interested in chemistry (always top of the class in it) and was aiming to become a pharmacist (thank goodness I never went further with that idea). By my mid teens, I had taken a rather strange interest in automatic telephony. I learned so much I was able to design and build a 50 line automatic telephone exchange at home. Various manufacturers kindly supplied masses of heavy equipment and the Post Office (taken over by BT) also helped enormously. Two manufacturers asked if I would consider leaving school at 16 to join them. The PO was also keen to get me at 18 and
put me on their executive engineering scheme. Now that did interest me but my advanced maths was not good and you needed it to reach the highest rungs of the Post Office. Had I been good at advanced maths I think I could have had a glittering career in that field.
By 16 I realised I had a third passion: art. Could I study chemistry, art and say biology? No you cannot was the head’s immediate answer. He would not allow chemistry and art but he would allow biology if the head of the adjoining girls school would allow me into their lessons. So I ended up sticking with the sciences. Not a good idea. And to be honest, I found it
hard slog too as I only do well when I am really interested in something, the interest by then waning.
I was a bit of a nerd at school. Well actually that’s not true. I was a total nerd. My nickname was “professor” though I can tell you my intelligence did not match up to the name! Over the years I have met many real professors and found them the least nerdy people you could imagine! Ah well, that’s life.
If you think someone matching my profile probably wouldn’t have much to do with sport you’d be right – in my case anyway. In my school days I think I only paraded out onto the sports field half a dozen times in my first year and then not at all after that. The same with pe. I had an illness which I played on to the full thanks to a doting mother. It was wonderful. However, I mention all this because it would have direct relevence to some of my later work. Contrast would probably be a better word. Not being sure what to make of me, my school pushed me towards training to be a teacher. I studied…er…chemistry and art, which is what I’d wanted all along!
– How did you get into the job?
In my spare time as a student I worked at BBC Radio Stoke-on-Trent. They used to send me off to far flung places to get funny interviews for Monday’s breakfast show. In the evening I then helped edit and thread up tapes for a live sport show. One Saturday, instead of sending me out they asked if I could help at regional swimming gala. I thought it would be reeling out the cables but no. Their “man” wasn’t available so could I report live throughout the afternoon? So that was my very first live
reporting job. In at the deep end as they say. I taught for a year before chucking it in and joining some of the very people from Stoke who’d set up a new station: Radio Humberside. It was casual labour as the BBC called it, reclaiming pieces of scrap recording tape. Remember, I’d thrown in a secure teaching job with pension to do this! Then a stroke of luck. Would I get an interview with some yobs who were vandalising an estate? I did more than that. I secretly made a documentary about gangland warfare including hells angels, motorbike gangs and skinheads all going on in the city. It was hot stuff drawing a few irate comments, mostly from the local council. I got the next staff job that came up and I never had to reclaim scrap tape again.
– Where was your first announcing job?
Basically, it was BBC Radio Humberside. I got to present and produce programmes there and like the rest of the team had regular continuity shifts. It is all different now but in those days it was like a cross between Radio 2 and Radio 4 but on a lower
budget. You had to link to recorded and live programmes, fill when needed, and join the BBC networks with split second timing. I had a knack of filling the most unexpectedly long gap calmly and without mistake, going through all kinds of pieces of paper thrust my way including the weather forecast – precisely reaching the first pip of the time signal with just a hair’s breadth to spare.
I also stood in regularly for music show presenters when they were on holiday including Paul Heiney’s (of Watchdog) drive time show.
Now, the really interesting thing is I became the station’s sports editor!!!! Yes, the man who hated sport at school. What happened was I wanted to keep fit and asked contacts at the local council to put me on a course. They suggested some and mentioned one that was totally unsuitable for me: rugby union training. So I did that (I always have been a bit of a rebel). And liked it. And ended up playing for various teams. And took up amateur rugby league too. It made me look like some kind of sports fanatic which the station wanted. Years later I also worked as a senior producer for Screensport, now Eurosport. I hope my old games master gets to read all of this.
– Where did you hear about the job at Grampian and what were they like to work for?
I am not sure. I used to write a lot of letters to ITV companies so they would probably have already had me on file when a job came up. I think it may well have been David Bennett who tipped me off.
– Who auditioned you for the job and what did it involve?
Kennedy Thomson was the man. What a wonderful personality. I can’t remember what the audition involved but almost certainly included some short introductions to programmes and a little newsreading. Nothing as daunting as the interview for my job as announcer at BBC TV Centre, when there were six people along a row of tables with me sitting on a solitary chair in the middle of the room. It was followed by a grueling studio session and dozens of biochemical names in a script from the Open University. I didn’t fluff one and so began my career as a tv announcer.
– Did you have to go through any special training for going invision at Grampian?
No, as I had already been an in-vision announcer for the BBC, mainly as a full time presenter in the Leeds newsroom though I also popped up elsewhere including Manchester and Newcastle. In the BBC regions at various times of the day you also had to work a sound and vision mixer (as well as other bits of equipment) which were just underneath and out of sight. When Leeds invited me for audition I went to my bedroom, hung a mirror on the wall as the camera, tore up sheets of paper to represent the row of preview monitors, and drew a control panel. It was like learning to touch type. By the time of the audition I could operate their desk even though I’d never used it before. However, they just wanted me to sit and read and not operate. I persuaded them to let me direct, operate and present the whole audition – which they couldn’t believe was happening. The
job was offered immediately. Cunning, eh?
– What was it like reading the North News /Headlines without an autocue?
Yes, you are right, they did not have Autocue in that studio and which I was used to. You have to absorb as much of the script as possible as you look down. Getting the script in good time is essential if you are to deliver it well without a prompter. Thankfully this always happened at Grampian. Still, I think a prompter would have been money well spent. However, they tend to be big contraptions so I doubt if one would have fitted in the tiny studio.
– What was the continuity studio on the first floor like to work in and did you get the chance work in the new one on the ground floor?
I left just before the new facilities came online. The old ones were typical of all ITV stations of the time: cramped, a little old fashioned, and rather claustrophobic. Viewers had no idea what a grotty box it was, such was the illusion created. One station (not Grampian) had an old sideboard just out of shot on top of which was a row of brown sauce bottles – handy for when their announcer ate in-front of camera though not when it was on I hasten to add.
– Both shifts were split with the early announcer going for lunch after annoucing into news at one .The late announcer would read the North News at 1.20 and cover until about 3pm, then come back for the evening . Did you find the late shift quite a long day .What time did you have to start and prepare for the lunchtime bulletin .The early shift seemed to be quite easy what did the announcer do for three hours when schools programmes were on?
The early shift was a little tedious as there was so little to do. However you needed to be there just in case. Rehearsing the news didn’t take too long as I was well used to that in my previous jobs at the BBC. The one thing I always did, no matter what the shift was to familiarise myself fully with the programmes that day, the next day and later that week. I even wrote emergency scripts of at least a minute or so to cover all kinds of eventualities and knew the TV Times inside out. I’d recommend the technique to all aspiring announcers as you will never be left with egg on your face that way. In-fact it is really what they paid you for – not for just sounding nice but being Mr Grampian, the company’s representative on screen and not looking stupid when things went wrong. That’s a point – confidence through preparation – a lot of newcomers don’t seem to realise it’s so important.
– What are your memories of the other announcers on the team?
It was a very enjoyable team to work with – all of them. If you didn’t like the work and the team you really didn’t deserve to be there. But I should really include not just the announcers but the unseen people too. These included those just inches away behind the glass – the transmission directors who switched between pictures and made sure everything ran to the second and the transmission assistants too. And not too far from them were the many engineers who operated all the machines bringing us the films and video tape sequences. We all knew each other and it was a great team. Of-course, it goes beyond that as we had script writers and others in the back office. That was the nice thing about Grampian, we all knew each other. I knew everyone in the newsroom, all the programme directors, and indeed the bosses. They were all excellent people to work with and I can
honestly say it was one of the best companies you could have ever wished to work for.
– What year did you begin working for Grampian what year did you leave?
Oh dear I’ve erased that from my memory. I wish I could still be there!
– What made you decide to move on from Grampian and what have you being doing since you left?
I actually left twice! The first time was because I’d been head hunted by a new radio station to produce current affairs programmes. However, the deal was I also had to present their afternoon show. Unknown to me, it was probably the real reason for getting me – because I “sounded good”. I soon realised that playing records was not my forte. Grampian hadn’t yet filled
my old job so I came back (now how many companies would let you do that?). My heart though was to eventually go behind the camera – into production of some sort.
I ended up as a television director in ITV though unfortunately never at Grampian which would have been my dream ticket. I’ve directed in war torn Belfast during all the bombing, worked on everything from pig farming to children’s programmes, and been the director for Central tv’s fast moving live news show – covering the biggest tv area in Britain. Indeed Central was another friendly place though physically on a much greater scale than Grampian. It was a vast building from where the famous soap, Crossroads used to come. Being a director requires you to be quite a different animal to a continuity announcer. You had to stop being Mr Nice Guy all the time though the old rule of preparation and confidence still counted just as much.
I also trained in journalism, took a short law course, and was one of the highest scoring students they’d ever had. Without me even applying, the BBC offered weekend editing at one of its stations though the early rising – which I hate – put a stop to my enthusiasm. How I wished I’d stuck at it as I had literally everything going for me – presentation and production skills and then journalism. That has been my biggest regret in life. All because I liked to stay in bed. What a stupid boy I was. Anyone like to
offer me the job again?
However, my next move was into management. I’d already helped launch Britains very first satellite movie channel years earlier and the experience proved useful when I set up the presentation department for the Daily Mail’s news station, Channel One in London. Again, another excellent company to work for and brimming with enthusiastic people working at the cutting edge. I also did the same for the Mail’s other stations in Bristol and Liverpool as well as their then arts channel, Performance.
Next came an even bigger job based in Amsterdam doing pretty much the same but for 7 channels in as many countries and languages throughout Europe. It was the world’s first multi-channel, multi-lingual set up which also did not use any tapes, broadcasting instead from computer servers. About as hi-tech as you could get.
I have since been involved in a lot lecturing and trained virtually the whole production staff of a new national tv station out in Bangladesh.
For some stupid reason I had a beautiful house built in Slovenia and now realise that at the age of 60 I am still virtually as I was when I was 35 or 40 (minus the hair). What am I doing here? As a first step back to civilisation I have bought another house in Germany alongside the Dutch border – and rather handy for regular trips back by air to the UK. No offer refused though preferably not reclaiming scrap tape!