How It All Began

I need to move on and start looking for other opportunities but I still can’t get my head round the fact that I don’t actually work at the BBC anymore.  Apparently, it’s quite natural….

I have no idea where three decades have gone because it really does feel like yesterday that I first started working there. 

It was never part of any grand plan.  Basically, I hadn’t done as well as I should have done with my A-levels and although I had a place at North London Polytechnic, my mother was very keen that I went to a university rather than a polytechnic, so she made me take a year out to re-take my exams.  I decided to sign up with a temp agency so that I could make some money while I was supposed to be revising !!

The very first place that I was sent to was the BBC Outside Broadcast base in West Acton, just to fill in for two weeks in the admin office.  And that was really how it all started.  They liked me, I LOVED them and they offered me a three month contract in their scheduling office where I worked with all those hunky OB cameramen and rigger drivers.  Believe me, I had a lot of fun!

By the time, that contract came to an end, I had two permanent job offers.  One was as a clerk in Radio Drama based at Broadcasting House and the other was to do more staff scheduling but this time at Television Centre.  There was never any question for me. I knew I needed to be at TVC which at the time was truly the heart of great British television, with brilliant programmes made there such as BlackAdder, Just Good Friends, Don’t Wait Up, The Young Ones, Allo Allo, Dr Who, Points of View, Grange Hill …and a whole load more..  

In fact, often at weekends, when I was supposed to be working but there were no managers around, I would often sit in afternoon rehearsals of the sitcoms, before the recordings in front of an audience later in the evening,. I would sit at the back and chuckle away.  One day, during a particularly funny rehearsal of Only Fools and Horses, I couldn’t help laughing quite loudly when David Jason who played Del Boy looked up and for a second I thought I was going to get in trouble.  But he shouted over  “Oi, sweet heart.  Why don’t you come and sit yourself down here at the front so that we can hear you laughing. That will help us know how the audience will react tonight.”  I was so proud, and I did that, every week, for the rest of that series run and to be fair they were very appreciative.  I considered myself to be a vital member of the team and integral to the show’s success!!

But sorry, I’m getting ahead of myself.  So, I still remember the day I arrived for my first interview.  I came out of White City station and looked up in awe at the building I already knew so well thanks to Swap Shop, and Saturday Superstore and Blue Peter and various Saturday night programmes which came “Live From BBC Television Centre.”

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When I walked through those gates, I really did feel like I had come home and that is what I have felt right up until Television Centre closed those gates, just last month.  I felt so proud to work there and would regularly get a twinge of excitement when I walked in.  

Anyway, I took the staff scheduling job and started off in Scenery at a time when they were involved with a huge project that involved building up a massive set at our Elstree studios.  It was for an experimental series that no one really had particularly high hopes for.  They didn’t have even have a proper title for it but it started off as Barrow Lane and then they started calling it E20 with the idea was that it would follow the lives of the local residents. I remember the first time I was taken along to the set which was basically a wasteland with flags and fencing dotted around.  I was quite fascinated as I watched them talking about building a pub here and a café over here and perhaps, a square over there.  I couldn’t visualise it but when I went along a few months later, it had pretty much taken shape and less than a year on I was back meeting the brand new cast who had already started filming even though the programme hadn’t aired yet.  Oh, and the name had changed again to…….”EastEnders”.  

As far as my career was concerned, I spent my first 18 months moving from Scenery to Costume to Studio Cameras, Sound and Lighting.  In those days, it was pretty easy to move around internally and it gave me a real insight in to how Television Centre worked.  But I had already spotted where I wanted to be and that, was in the BBC Newsroom.  So I got a job there as a production assistant and never looked back!

Over the years, I have worked as a researcher, assistant  producer, reporter, producer, presenter, senior producer and I think I have worked on most TV programmes such as the 1, 6 and 9 o’clock news (before it became the 10), Newsround, Newsnight and Breakfast News.  I didn’t do much radio, as in the old days TV and Radio had two completely different newsrooms in different buildings – one at Television Centre and one at Broadcasting House, with two sets of staff doing effectively the same job. That’s changed now of course and everyone works in one place with the correspondents expected to work on TV, Radio and Online and if they can tweet in between, all the better.  

Just before I left, we moved our whole news operation to a massive state of the art newsroom in New Broadcasting House, next door to, well, the old Broadcasting House.  It’s a great building but it doesn’t have the soul of Television Centre.

Sorry, I digress again.  So, by 1989, I was very much at home in the TV newsroom and was asked by a new company that was just starting out if I wanted to join their News operation.  It was SKY and they offered me exactly double my salary.  You have to understand that wasn’t actually that much, because in those days BBC News really did work under the principle that with ITN as its only real competition, they didn’t have to pay much to keep you there.  I have to admit I was sorely tempted but my Dad had always been a huge fan of the BBC and he was immensely proud that I worked for the best news organisation in the whole world.  He persuaded me to stay as he said it was unlikely any other company would ever match its worldwide reputation.  So I refused SKY and stayed at the Beeb and I was so glad I did.  

It wasn’t long before SKY’s news service gained its reputation of “never wrong….for long”.  Within 18 months my salary had pretty much risen to what SKY had offered as we had to change our whole way of working to keep up with the competition.  World TV news started which was a 24 hour operation and that was a shock to the system as it took a while to get used to being on air all the time !

Of course, as proud as my darling Dad was of me, my Mother was barely talking to me for never making it to university.  Her disappointment in me had started when it became clear during my O-levels that I was much more interested in the Arts than in Science and this completely scuppered her plans for me to become…Indian mother and all that….a doctor!  She then decided, because I had taken Economics at A-level that I should become an accountant.  And once, in exasperation she said, “oh for goodness sake, you have to do something worthwhile.  Maybe because you talk so much you could become a lawyer”.  She was never overly impressed with me working in news and often asked, over the years, when I was going to get a proper job!  I must admit, I have never felt that mine was a “proper job”.  

Far too much fun! 

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What I Meant To Say

I said I would publish my leaving speech on this blog and having just read it again, I realise I need to as I didn’t actually say everything I had written as it was so dark, I couldn’t read it properly!!

  So here it is, in all its glory.  It followed a bit of overwhelmed mumbling trying to thank everyone for the leaving film and for so many people coming out on such a cold night ……  

So as you all know, we had to move tonight’s party as the original date clashed with the “Goodbye Television Centre” party.  I was going to say March 2013 will always be remembered as the time you all had the opportunity to say farewell to TWO clapped out, creaking OLD institutions but David Sillito clearly got there first, in the film….!!

Apart from the last few months at New Broadcasting House, I spent all of my BBC career at Television Centre and when I started thirty years ago, there was no internet, or email or mobiles and it was even before the fax came in as the latest state of the art technology. PCs didn’t exist and in fact we all worked off VDUs which wasn’t a sexual disease, but screens that were connected to a huge computer that had an office all to itself!!  And the newsroom was full of typewriters and smoke, as pretty much everyone chain-smoked at their desk in those days.

I’m seeing nods of recognition from my older colleagues and pure horror from the younger ones !  I realise it sounds like a whole other world from a different time, but in spite of that can I just make it clear that I am NOT RETIRING.  The official line for anyone who asks is that I’m still 39 !

Lots of people have asked me what I plan to do.  When Jim asked me, I told him that I planned to do absolutely nothing for a while and of course he said – “no change there then”.

For all those that have asked what I have done in the last week since my last working day, I can now reveal that I….. have spent pretty much all day and every day in bed ……with my husband …doing nothing more exciting than sneezing at each other.

In all honesty, I don’t have many plans.  I want to do a bit of writing to see if I could be any good at that, and I plan to renovate our house which seems to be stuck in a bit of an 80’s timewarp.  A bit like me really, with my huge shoulder pads.  Oh, actually, I’m not wearing shoulder pads today– these are just my own large fat squishy shoulders.

My family too, especially my mother, have lots of plans for things they want me to do for them and I must admit to looking forward to spending lots more time with them.

Quite honestly, I’ll need them to stop me missing my family here who I know I will miss terribly.  Especially people like my Duncan, Declan, Adam and Thea, the brilliant David Sillito who has always been my favourite correspondent to work with, the gorgeously crazy Tracey, my darling funny Stephen who probably makes me laugh more than anyone else I know, the irreverent Matthew of course, and more recently the lovely Rachel and Tony.

This job has been great and I’m sure I’ll never do anything like it again but it really is the relationships forged with all of you over the years that has made it so fantastic.  So, thank you so much for that.

In thirty years here, I have had some spectacularly bad managers. I’m not going to dwell on them.  It was great finishing off with Morwen and Debby who gave me some great jobs in my last few months.  Thank you both for that.  It has allowed me to leave with a belief that actually, you know, maybe I’m not so bad at what I do.  That’s not up for discussion by the way as I’m sure there are a fair few of you who might choose to take issue with that.

In terms of great managers, the lovely Alison Ford probably comes top of my list.  For no other reason than I think she’s got a brilliant mind and she always made me feel like I was a real asset to her team.  That is a very empowering feeling. Of course, even as I say that, I can hear the huffing and puffing of my second favourite manager – the great Jim Buchanan. I am well aware, that this may not be a view shared by everyone in the room!!  But for me, he has been a great mentor, a great encouragement, a great adviser and actually over the years, he has become a great friend.  He has pushed me on and most importantly, he made me believe in myself.  He’s not afraid to tell me I’m a moody old cow and he in turn, can be an impossibly grumpy old git.  He has a temper when he is crossed and believe me, I have been on the end of that but….regardless of it all, I really do love him to bits and I do want to say, in front of everyone, thank you Jim.

I suppose the word that would sum up most of my years here is laughter, which you captured so wonderfully in the film.  Over the years I know my laugh has got more and more raucous and you lot have let me get away with that.  I know I wont be able to laugh like that in any new job but in truth, I doubt there is anywhere on this earth that will make laugh as much as this place has

Thanks again to all of you for coming tonight.  Please stay in touch.  I’m on Twitter – @cheryoncake – and I’m hilariously funny so do follow me.  As most of you know, I’m not a Facebook fan but I am on there, and I’m toying with the idea of writing a blog too but we’ll see how that goes.

My darling late dad loved the BBC and he was so proud that I worked for a company with such an amazing worldwide reputation.

He was so right.  It really has been a privilege, and I will truly miss it.

I plan to talk to all of you tonight, so do stay around.  I’ll put a few bits of food put out shortly.  So get a drink and thank you again for being such fabulous people to know.  I really will miss you all and can’t bear the thought that I won’t be seeing you on a regular basis.

Here’s to you, here’s to the BBC and all that’s left to say for now is….goodbye!

Gorgeous Gifts

Even though my last working day was on the 15th March, my employment at the BBC formally ended on Friday.  That means the strings have been cut and I am now out there alone!

I felt surprisingly sad on Friday but I couldn’t stop smiling every time I looked at my gorgeous leaving gifts.  So, I thought I’d put them here so that everyone can see what amazingly generous colleagues I have….and understand just why I am missing them so much

ImageThis is SO gorgeous….and that’s just the hatbox packaging!! Inside a complete little tea-set with the prettiest pattern ever. I love it, and can’t stop looking at it.

ImageA Cross pen!!  I have never had one before. That will be coming out with me on all special occasions to show people just how classy I am !!

ImageI’ve wanted one of these for ages and have been meaning to get one so it is the perfect gift. And it will be in this very book, that I write down and develop all my ideas for my sit-com.

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And with that in mind, this….from my lovely, glamorous friend Sarah Deech who mixes in the BEST comedy circles – a perfect gift! I will be using this (together with my notebook and pen) to write my sit-com. WATCH THIS SPACE !

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I screamed when I opened this from my darling friend Stephen James Yeoman.  It is the most beautiful Waterford crystal rose bowl and as a crystal freak, I absolutely ADORE it. Such a beautiful, generous gift

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And finally, this……It is SO special. My BBC book.  I LOVE it so much. It’s full of the most touching, kind comments – surprisingly none of them rude – from my gorgeous colleagues. I cried when I first read it, and I’m beginning to wonder if there will ever be a day when I don’t look at it.

Gorgeous gifts from truly gorgeous people

The Leaving Party

Last week, it was my BBC leaving party.  It was fabulous and the perfect send-off.

I’ll admit that beforehand, I was a bit worried because I was feeling so ill in the week running up to it, and at one stage, I really thought I might not be able to make it.   However, I got myself some antibiotics and was determined to be well enough come the day. 

If I’m honest, I was also anxious that not many people would turn up.  After all, it was midweek and freezing cold.  However, I knew I would enjoy it, even if only 20 people came.  I needn’t have worried though. I got there with my family at about 6.30pm and soon after that, the blagclub in HollandPark was full.  Of course, I then realised that I wasn’t going to have any meaningful conversations with anyone that evening, as no sooner did I start talking to someone than I would have to stop mid-way as someone else came to say hello. 

There were so many wonderful people there and it was especially lovely to see so many from my early days in the newsroom.

At about 7.30, everyone went very quiet and gathered round a big screen, and we watched the most amazing film that had been put together.  It was mind-blowingly fantastic and even though I am obviously biased, I think it is one of the best leaving films I have EVER seen and believe me, at the BBC, we are very good at them.  It was edited mainly by my lovely friend Duncan Knowles and presented by the BBC’s best Arts and Entertainment Correspondent, David Sillito. I can freely admit now that I have been a bit in love with both of these men for over fifteen years

The film centred around the premise that my rather loud laugh, which it seems I am quite well known for, was responsible for Television Centre’s crumbling foundations and the real reason why it had to close.  It starred past and present colleagues and featured fabulous contributions from the likes of the great Bill Turnbull, Susanna Reid, Esther Rantzen, Terry Wogan, David Frost and unbelievably, the gorgeous David Tennant.  That contribution alone has seemed to finally gain my daughter’s undying awe and respect!!  

It was incredibly funny, apart from the seemingly endless footage of me that they managed to find of me from over the years, much of which I had tried to keep secret!

I loved it though.  Totally loved it and am still completely overwhelmed at the time and trouble that so many of my lovely friends and colleagues took to put it together.

It didn’t end there either as then my lovely manager, James Buchanan, gave an amazing speech which although was full of all my bumbling incompetencies, was also full of true affection.   I had already cried during the film but I admit to being emotional at Jim’s speech too.

Then of course it was my turn.  Fortunately, I had prepared something in advance as by now, I was genuinely speechless, and could barely get the words out.  I’ll publish it here sometime but now it seems so trite compared to such a fulsome tribute and to the most beautiful gifts which included the prettiest tea set by Katy Potts, a posh Cross pen and a notebook together with the comedy bible so that I can start work on my own sit-com (watch this space) and an amazing Waterford crystal rose bowl.

All so beautiful, and I am getting emotional again just thinking about that fantastic evening which saw the end of a fabulous thirty years.  That’s why it has taken me so long to write about it because even over a week and a half later I’m quite emotional at the realisation that saying goodbye to all my brilliant colleagues means that I really have now left the BBC. 

It is no longer my present, but part of my past.