I don’t make great claims for this column. There are sometimes funny things in the words, it’s always nicely spell-checked and it smells of jojoba. But to claim it’s ground-breaking journalism would have me up before Lord Justice Leveson before you could say “I simply can’t recall”.
However, I am now going to make a claim for this column that I believe I can substantiate: it creates interesting radio.
A while back I asked readers if they had personal experience of SOS messages – those dramatic real-life vignettes that used to appear on the radio before the news: “Would Mr and Mrs Prenhop, last seen travelling round the Lake District in a Morris Minor, please contact the Abandon Hope Hospital where their daughter is dangerously ill?” We were planning a Radio 4 documentary about the messages.
Last weekend I spent a fascinating day interviewing readers of this column about their amazing stories. One woman whose family was never the same because of a secret revealed in an SOS broadcast. A man who learnt something life-changing about his mother. And a woman who, as a very poorly six-year-old, was reunited with her parents thanks to a cyclist she’d never met.
Some of it was jaw-dropping stuff, and I want to thank everyone we interviewed for being so generous with their time. The stories will make interesting radio, and I will let you know in this column when we have a transmission date.
For weeks I’ve been droning on about the new Broadcasting House in central London, which has been attached to the original Broadcasting House using recycled Woman’s Hour scripts. We decided old BH would be the ideal location to record the links for your programme since so many of the SOS messages were broadcast from there.
We planned to record in the ancient stairwells, underneath a portrait of Lord Reith and – since someone had foolishly granted us access – in the director-general’s meeting room. A great plan that was almost scuppered by one thing. As we arrived, there was a demonstration taking place outside BH. The protesters were angry about something the BBC was doing.
Were we biased in favour of Tom? Biased in favour of Katie? I couldn’t make out the words of the man with the megaphone as he had failed to understand its key principles and was bellowing into it. But I felt good that, whoever they were, it was a good-natured noisy protest in the fine British democratic tradition. Good for them.
Five minutes later I wanted to kill them. Inside BH, the sound of megaphone man seeped into every location we tried to record in. We wanted authenticity and history, but the racket sent us scurrying in search of quiet. We did one link in a lift. What should have taken half an hour took an afternoon.
Finally, as we peered out from the DG’s meeting room (oak panels and a huge flatscreen TV with a Freeview box, since you ask) the protestors had moved on. Perhaps they’d made their point, perhaps they were just exhausted. Perhaps I had called the police and falsely alleged they were all terrorists. Who knows?