A new strand for this blog – all about ME! Well, there’s nothing like experience for teaching you things and while I’m enjoying talking about myself, you may pick up the odd idea on what to do – or more likely what NOT to do – in television! I can assure you it’s mostly an account of things that don’t go smoothly……
Chapter One: The Beginning
The person to inspire me to work in the television business was my godmother, Judith Chalmers, most famous for her role presenting the popular travel series of old, “Wish You Were Here”. I’d see her on the telly, of course, but it wasn’t until she invited me to watch her recording an episode of “Afternoon Plus” at the Thames TV studios that my appetite for the business was whetted. I remember asking one of the cameramen what is was like working in telly and he was encouraging. Apart from that, of course, I loved the atmosphere of the studio and admired my godmother taking charge of the interviews and getting information out of people.
No, she didn’t give me a helping hand and no work experience or jobs came my way as a result of that connection but I thank her profusely for motivating my career choice.
At university I volunteered to get involved in a radio programme the students made once a month for the local BBC station. No doubt someone had advised me that getting that first job in the media would be easier if I showed application and interest while studying. The university was Keele in Staffordshire, the local BBC station was Radio Stoke on Trent and the programme itself was called ‘Keele Over’. There were only about 4 or 5 of us involved (Chris MacWhinnie, Martin Finch, Mike Sherwood – your names are on my cassette cover!). I’d wander around the campus with a very cumbersome, very ancient tape recorder getting interviews from any unsuspecting visitors to the university (OK, I confess it was a Uher reel-to-reel - museum piece now, I’d imagine!). Somewhere I still have a letter from the ex-Prime Minister of the time Harold Wilson politely declining my request for an interview! (Beginning to wish I hadn’t started this – I’m starting to sound older and older with every word I write….I stress he had left office well before I got to uni!)
Once a month the radio station would let us into their studios in the evening and leave us there overnight to put our show together. We’d record the campus news (which I read) and edit together our various packages into a magazine show. Can’t say I remember much about the content but it included new music compositions from students, interviews with visiting musicians, artists and academics and anyone else of any vague interest and relevance. We’d leave the finished tape on someone’s desk and close the door behind us sometime in the early hours, or at dawn if we were really messing around!
It was my first taste of making a magazine show – learning what may prove interesting to listeners, seeking out suitable interviewees, doing enough research to be able to ask sensible questions, editing out the boring bits and presenting a complete package for transmission. Our opening and closing theme tune was that old favourite instrumental track, Popcorn. Remember that?
If I ever work out how to transfer audio cassette tape to digital I may even post a snippet of our radio show of old!
Do BBC radio stations still allow students into their studios to make their own radio shows these days? No idea, but guess I was lucky to be part of that small group of students, privileged to be let loose in a BBC radio studio without supervision and sensible enough to make the most of a wonderful opportunity.
Keele University now has its own radio station – KUBE – and it looks a whole lot more sophisticated than our original operation. No doubt other colleges and campuses are doing something similar. You don’t need to be studying Media to be developing your media talents.
The lesson from this first chapter: take any opportunity you can to indulge and learn about your desired profession. It’s hard getting that first job in television so show that you have passion for the media, that you have the initiative to devise, develop and make your own kind of features or shows, whatever the format – video, radio, print. You have so many opportunities in this modern age of technology. Create your own channel and put your own videos on YouTube, volunteer your services to your local hospital radio, enter video competitions, find a new angle to approach that high profile celebrity for an interview, pitch your ideas to anyone who will listen.
Don’t just sit back and rely on that media qualification or degree or GSCE. There is fierce competition out there and you need to anything you can to stand out when it comes to filling in applications.
Coming up in the next chapter: travelling the world with a Walkman and a microphone and my first commission from the BBC World Service!