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.”
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!