Showing posts with label BBC. Show all posts
Showing posts with label BBC. Show all posts

Monday, 5 November 2012

The BBC's Nick Robinson - and the perils of working from home

BBC political editor Nick Robinson is a brilliant reporter. He always looks cool, calm and unflustered – even when he’s got scary deadlines to meet and major political stories to cover. He’s also got that rare journalistic knack of making the most complicated issues clear and intelligible. He’s particularly good on Radio Four’s Today programme, where he often pops up to detangle the political complexities of the day.

Yesterday Robinson was featured on The Sunday Times Magazine’s long-running A Life in the Day page. It was fascinating stuff (he said most politicians are “decent people doing an honourable job,” declared he'll never do Strictly Come Dancing and revealed that when he’s working he lives on crisps and chocolate). There was also one recollection that will strike a chord with all parents who work from home.

Although Robinson is based at London’s Millbank, he explained that he sometimes does interviews from his basement office at home.

“Once, when the kids were small and my wife was away, I had an important radio interview to do – about the Northern Ireland peace process – and I told the kids they needed to be quiet,” he said.

“But the minute the interview began they started shouting that a door handle had fallen off and they were locked in a room.”

So what did he do?

“Like any man faced with a choice between family and career, I ploughed on with the interview…”  

And I’m sure the listeners had no idea about the drama going on around him. What a pro.   

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Corgis, snakes and ladders

It’s 20 years since I threw caution to the wind and swapped a steady (ish) job and salary for the precarious life of a freelance. But right at the start, I made a solemn promise – and it’s one I’ve never broken. I would not, I told myself, ever sneak out of my office to watch daytime TV. If I did it once, I knew I’d be doomed.

But daytime radio is a different matter – which is how I came to hear Jeremy Vine talking to Richard Bacon about his new book, It's All News to Me, on BBC Five Live yesterday.

I was glad I did because Vine (who’d just finished his lunchtime show on Radio 2) told Bacon of his firm belief that “there is still a place for the analogue newspaper.” He described how he'd spread that morning’s newspapers across the kitchen floor to show his eight-year-old daughter Martha their impressive coverage of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. “It’s just not the same on a screen,” he told listeners.

I completely agree. The last year has been a shameful one for newspapers but their coverage of the four-day jubilee has shown them at their stupendous best. While the BBC was castigated for its inane reporting of the flotilla, newspapers rose to the challenge in admirable style. The pictures were stunning, the reporting extensive and knowledgeable and The Times cleverly hit on the idea of creating a new game called Corgis, Snakes and Ladders (above) to mark the event. I stuck it on the kitchen wall – with the result that my staunchly republican husband and son can now quote everything from the date the Queen’s first corgi, Susan, died (1959) to the year Prince Harry was born (1984).

PS. Never mind calling for Gary Barlow to be knighted, the people who should be honoured in double-quick time are the team who dreamed up the stunning montage beamed across Buckingham Palace on Monday night. As Madness belted out Our House from the roof (lead singer Suggs confessed later that he suffered from vertigo), the front of the palace was transformed into a row of terraced houses with a double-decker bus and taxi trundling past, a block of high-rise flats and much, much more. It was the best moment of the night.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Any Questions on BBC Radio 4 - and Jonathan Dimbleby's phone

Friday evenings are my favourite time of the week. I switch off my computer, pour myself a glass of Pinot Grigio and settle down to listen to Any Questions on the radio.

But this week was completely different. I jumped in the car with my son and hared down the motorway in the rush-hour traffic. We were in London by six, hopped on the number 94 bus to Oxford Circus and were just in time to join the long queue snaking round Broadcasting House (above) in the cold night air.

Everyone in the line had applied for – and got – free tickets to hear the live broadcast of Radio 4's Any Questions. Most weeks it’s hosted by schools and village halls up and down the country but this Friday it was coming from the BBC’s own radio theatre in the heart of central London.

By the time we got into the radio theatre, each clutching a cup of the BBC’s very strong tea, we were full of anticipation. “Make sure you turn off your mobile,” I told my son, who proceeded to give me a science lecture about why it was fine to have it on “silent.” After a few minutes of arguing, he gave up the battle and switched it off.

Just before eight pm, chairman Jonathan Dimbleby and the panel appeared onstage, looking surprisingly relaxed. To his right sat Tory MP Matthew Hancock and advertising boss Sir Martin Sorrell while to his left were shadow deputy PM Harriet Harman and TUC general secretary Brendan Barber.

Then they were off, sounding impressively articulate considering they were on live radio and had Jonathan Dimbleby and producer Victoria Wakely gesticulating when it was time to start and stop talking. As they whizzed through the planned strike by public sector workers, jobs for 16 to 24 year olds and inequalities in pay, Harriet Harman was by far the best panellist - eloquent, charming and thoughtful.

But then, just as Sir Martin Sorrell was in full flow about high earners, there was a faintly discernible buzzing sound from the stage. Victoria Wakely reacted like lightning. She reached inside Jonathan Dimbleby’s jacket pocket, removed his mobile phone and silently hurried offstage.

“You should have turned your phone off,” Sir Martin told Dimbleby, divulging his guilty secret to all the listeners at home. The Any Questions host had the grace to look embarrassed. “I was preparing to ‘fess up,” he said. “Thank you very much.”

At the end of the show my son turned to me. “You spent all that time telling me to turn off my phone," he said. "You should have gone and told Jonathan Dimbleby too...”

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Jenni Murray and the art of the interview

Interviewing is an awful lot harder than it looks. When I hear someone doing it brilliantly – like John Humphrys or Olivia O’Leary – I’m so gripped by what the interviewee is saying that I barely even notice how skilful the interviewer is. When I hear someone doing it badly – sorry to say this, Christine Bleakley, when you’ve just announced your engagement – it is excruciating.

But the newly ennobled Dame Jenni Murray is definitely an interviewer at the top of her game. And last night (June 15) the Woman's Hour presenter gave a studio audience at Broadcasting House an insight into how she does it.

Interviewed by BBC news correspondent Nick Higham (no slouch in the interviewing stakes himself) she revealed that Margaret Thatcher and Catherine Deneuve were two of her most terrifying interviewees, that solid research beforehand is vital and that one of her strengths as an interviewer is, to put it bluntly, that she’s “nosey.” Along the way she said the first thing her husband David asked when he heard she was being made a Dame was “what does that make me?” and that she’d love to interview George Clooney. A night owl, she’s such a fan of ER that on Saturday nights she often watches three episodes back-to-back.

The Art of the Interview is a series of master-classes the BBC College of Journalism is running this year. Names like Libby Purves, Mark Lawson, Jane Garvey and Lyse Doucet have already taken part so watch out for their interviews (and Jenni Murray’s) on the BBC College of Journalism website -

One of the wisest people I’ve talked to about interviewing is award-winning journalist Emma Brockes, a former staff writer for The Guardian who is now based in New York. A highly skilled writer who has interviewed everyone from Liza Minnelli to Madeleine Albright over the years, she spoke to me for a book called “Interviewing for Journalists.”

Rather than preparing a long list of questions, for instance, Emma concentrates on plotting a route through an interview. She works out “key turning points” in advance – moments in the interview where she aims to move “from the publicity guff that celebrities want me to talk to them about... to the juicy stuff.”

But what stuck in my mind long after the interview was her passion for the job. As she explained: “It is the most extraordinary privilege to parachute in, go straight to what you think is the most interesting part of someone’s life and be able to ask the most impertinent questions they may ever have been asked.” I reckon Jenni Murray would agree.

PS: Now the exams are over my son's back on his bike (see above) - and I'm terrified!
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