The Newsnight green room is a mysterious place. It‘s a windowless tomb, in the basement of BBC Television Centre, about so big by so big. There are a couple of sofas, some chairs, a fridge and some stand-alone shelves with trinkets on, which may have been rescued from a 1983 Blue Peter set makeover. It’s a place where the production team can take studio guests after the programme to thank them for schlepping out at this hour to appear on TV.
The room is impossible to find unaided. It’s miles from both the production office and the studio and is tucked away discreetly up a narrow corridor off a winding corridor that looks the same as every other corridor. It has been a complete surprise to me every time a colleague has said, “Here we are.” And there’s a four-digit pin code for the door, which I haven’t been given and “never will”.
It was in this room, just before the start of the 2012 Olympics (which were being held in London) that a guest revealed his plan to avoid the Games altogether. For the duration, he was booked to stay in Las Vegas. He wanted to be miles from the throng, enormous travel delays and grinding security problems. He would spend a fortnight or so in a windowless tomb, about so big by so big, asking a croupier to hit him.
I wonder now whether he regrets his decision. He missed something special. What happened to us all during these Olympics? In our production offices at work, where the TVs are normally tuned to 24-hour news and the people talk animatedly about whether quantitative easing will be expanded, everyone became an ill-informed sports expert.
“I think it was a world record but not an Olympic record.” “Didn’t they just cross the line?” “Why are they still cycling? Oh, another lap?” “Wait… why did they change strokes halfway through the medley?”
At random moments, there would be cheering, gasping or even roaring in our normally erudite surroundings. I even heard Martha Kearney blurt out “Keep going!” at her TV monitor during a particularly exciting race. Luckily, listeners to The World at One merely thought she was asking a guest to continue.
Now it’s over and the world seems a duller place. I did a straw poll of the Newsnight studio audience and almost all of them said they enjoyed the Games. Yes, that’s right, there’s a live studio audience for Newsnight. It’s one of TV’s biggest secrets.
You can only get a ticket if you know who to ask. I do not know who to ask and “never will”, but somehow each night 300 news fans queue up dutifully to watch the programme go out. They’re instructed not to applaud, cough or laugh at any point, lest they let the cat out of the bag. I’ll probably get into trouble for revealing this, but I thought you should know. I can’t wait to see the official BBC response. It will either be a strict “no comment” or “Eddie was just trying to make a joke”. They’re all in on it. The ticket money is used to stock the green room fridge.