Heard on Radio 4 the other week, an earnest trailer for a tension-filled drama. Here’s what the script said:
Man: “What makes a man kill?”
Woman: “Weekday afternoons on BBC Radio 4...”
And you can’t really argue with that. I’m sure the trailer people didn’t spot the juxtaposition and I’m in no position to criticise. My ability to disconnect my brain from my mouth live on air can be heard nightly – and, worse than that, I’ve taken to writing howlers in advance into my own scripts.
Recently we did an item on PM about the variable form of the Manchester City and England goalkeeper Joe Hart. As usual I wrote my script into our computerised running order during the afternoon, for me to blurt out on the programme. I wrote: “Spare a thought, then, for Joe Hart. He’s the goalkeeper for Manchester United and England who has hit a run of bad form, making mistakes for his team and his country.”
Did you spot my mistake? Thankfully a young producer went into the script before transmission and changed United to City: “We’re here to spare your blushes, Eddie.” The script on the page that I would read on air was correct, no thanks to me. Buffoon.
And the story would end there – except here is what I said live on PM to squillions of listeners: “Spare a thought, then, for Joe Hart. He’s the goalkeeper for Manchester United and England who has hit a run of bad form, making mistakes for his team and his country.”
Yes, something in my brain just wanted me to say United. I know Joe plays for City – I’ve watched him on the telly. At no stage did I associate him with the red team. The word on the page was City – yet the word that came tumbling out of my mouth was unquestionably United.
Here I was casting doubt on the talents of a gifted professional who sometimes made mistakes in the heat of the moment – yet I couldn’t stop myself from screwing up, despite preparing in advance, having my work checked by a more alert colleague, and with the correct words written clearly in front of me. Doctors have a word for this; the word is stupidity.
I wish I could tell you this is an isolated example but sadly it isn’t. Would you like to hear another gem from the Eddie Mair Archive of Unmitigated Rubbish? Here is something else I wrote in a script recently and read out on air: “They’re invariably wrong. But sometimes, just sometimes, they’re right.”
The good people at Collins advise this on the word “invariably”: “Adverb: always; without exception”. Just to drive the point home they add that it means “regularly, constantly, every time, inevitably, repeatedly, consistently, continually, eternally, habitually, perpetually, customarily, unfailingly, on every occasion, unceasingly, twenty-four-seven, day in, day out”.
So you see, “sometimes, just sometimes, they’re right” doesn’t really enter into it. I just thank my lucky stars Sir Alex Ferguson is no longer in charge or I’d be on the receiving end of one of those famous “hairdryer” rants that he invariably sometimes gave.
Eddie Mair presents PM, Mon–Fri 5.00pm and iPM Saturday 5.45am, both Radio 4