Nights in White City: On the BBC Breakfast Sofa with Charlie and Louise
|'Missed him again!'|
THE CALL happens the day before, usually speculative at first- they sniff out where you stand on an issue to establish if you've got breakfast chemistry, I presume (swearing, corpsing, streaking, being deal breakers, I imagine). In fact I can usually tell when it's the BBC because it comes up BLOCKED on my phone, which either indicates the Auntie or a significant creditor, so I play roulette with my day and answer. I'm thinking of having a large red Bakelite phone installed that flashes red, just for these occasions.
When I first started doing this a year or so ago, they sent you a taxi there and back; in these days of fiscal anorexia the offer stands one way, unless I presume you are important, or Graham Norton. Relax, dear reader, your tax dollars aren't being wasted.
I needn't tell any teachers out there how odd it is to be in a suit and tie during the Easter holiday, let alone rising in the dark. Equally it never fails to feel odd driving into the old White City folly of Television centre, laser-carved into every Briton's genetic memory as the home of broadcasting, Blue Peter, Swap Shop and poverty-bashing Telethons. It's also one of the few postcodes that most people over thirty could recite by heart, like a Jungian archetype: W12 8QT (did you get it right? Answers on a postcard). It's an old Stalinist heap, the Gordon Brown of architecture, but lovable like an old dog with a cataract in one eye and a happy smile, wagging its tail.
|Seizing my moment, I POUNCED|
The studio itself is quite small, and no, there is NO newsroom behind the sofa. You get led swiftly on in one of their many twenty second clips, wired and miked in seconds and before you know it, you're being gently grilled (more sautéed) by, in this case, Charlie and Louise. It's hard to make something so tightly synchronised run so apparently effortlessly, and given that my guts were full of snakes and self-doubt, I'm amazed they come back each day and do it over and over.
My first couch co-pilot was Matthew Taylor, RSA Chief Executive and former Chief Adviser to Tony Blair. So, no pressure then. He was an old pro, of course, and there's always a sinking second in the hospitality room before you go on that the person they've picked to contrast your views with might be adversarial, but quite the opposite. He was an engine of practised charm and efficiency. My experience of RSA thinking hasn't been terribly positive; like all well-meaning organisations their hearts are absolutely in the right place, and they have the best interest of the kids at heart, but then, doesn't everyone? Don't we all? It's all a bit, 'Teach them 21st century competencies' and 'Group work not drone work', which I've dealt with elsewhere as being two of the great legerdemains of the faux-progressive educationalist movement.
|Matthew: LOVES group work.|
I also liked when he made a, 'Which is why great teachers like Tom, here...' comment. And I thought, you OLD SMOOTHIE. You could tell he'd been in politics.
I was on an hour later, so I had forty minutes to chain smoke outside and update Twitter, which by this point was melting with kind people. There's a TARDIS outside (sorry- THE Tardis) opposite a life size photograph of Will-I-am, Jessie J, Tom Jones, and the useless one no one knows, from The Voice. I resisted taking a picture of myself 'hanging out' with them. I failed to resist the TARDIS shot though. Of course.
|The Green Room: impossibly glamorous.|
And that was it; escorted out by the efficient, agreeable men and women of the Beeb. My ants-eye perspective was that it runs a very tight ship, at least on the ground. I couldn't see any Bohemian Boardroom profligacy at this level. I really admire the institution; having seen what commercial programming looks like in other countries, I marvel that we still have this bastion of anti-monetarism left for us.
I do hope Cameron and his pals in the League of Super villains don't sell it to anyone beastly.
*I asked people on Twitter how to download my recording of this onto a computer. I got a few responses, all useful. A few days before I 'crowdsourced' (read: too lazy to Google) a request for two words to be translated into Latin. I got THIRTY FIVE people who were lining up with offers to help, up to and including MARY BEARD FROM JAMIE'S DREAM SCHOOL/ CAMBRIDGE UNI (delete depending on cultural touchstones). I think I need more techies in my life.