The weather people were among the last refugees from BBC Television Centre to arrive at New Broadcasting House. I could make out, traipsing in a side door, the familiar figures of Peter Gibbs, Nina Ridge and Thomas Shafan…Tomaz Schafarn… Tomazs Schafirn… John Hammond.
Like the PM production team on our first day, they had the task of doing their job in unfamiliar surroundings coupled with the double-edged sword of being watched by senior execs. I have some sympathy for those seniors. People complain if they’re not visible enough (“The last director-general I saw in person was John Reith”) and they complain if they are around too often (“Don’t they have their own work to do? Why aren’t they out catching real criminals?”).
In all my time at the BBC I’ve only encountered one or two who you wouldn’t trust with scissors. Production teams still groan inwardly when these big bosses show up on big occasions. Presenting the first PM from New Broadcasting House, I looked up from my tear-stained desk to see a veritable Who’s That of BBC execs, who’d taken time out from busy schedules of back-to-back meetings to watch and listen to an actual radio programme. I’m joking of course – the support is appreciated. But it’s easier for me sitting the other side of the glass. In the production cubicle, crowded with producers, editors, technical staff and now senior execs, producers feel under extra pressure to perform well.
This involves saying all the things people expect producers to say (“Cut the next item by one minute/make sure the discussion guest is in the radio car”) while not saying all the things producers actually say when senior execs are not watching (“Those b******s at (name of another programme) stole our guest/My God this guest is tedious, but we’ve nothing else to go to/Why are the senior execs in this place so useless?”).
In news, execs will suddenly appear at your side, like the shopkeeper in Mr Benn, to lay a reassuring hand on your shoulder and tell you not to screw things up. I dread a massive loss of life not just because it would be an awful thing in and of itself, but because we’ll be stepping over execs on our way to the studio for a week.
I bumped into a weather presenter on their first day and asked how it was going. “Oh it’s fine, getting used to the equipment and how it all works. But it’s so stressful having all these bosses around!”
A PM producer tells me that on 9/11, with her nerves jangling and the production cubicle swarming with producers/execs, she sat back suddenly in her chair and found she’d elbowed the then director-general Greg Dyke in the stomach. Quite hard apparently. She swears that had it been football she’d have been sent off.
Eddie Mair presents PM from Monday-Friday at 5:00pm and co-presents iPM on Saturday at 5:45am – both on Radio 4