Buried in a somewhat forced, but polite titter, you could hear the irritation in the voice of Ann Leslie as she was described on the Today programme as “the Daily Mail’s veteran foreign correspondent”.
Charles Wheeler always said he wished he’d never said of me that I had “the most beautiful voice on radio ever” because it was quoted so widely and he was invariably called “the veteran broadcaster”. And while I couldn’t have been more thrilled at the compliment, I’m beginning to agree that there are few things more dashing to the professional ego than to be continually reminded of how long you’ve been at it.
But I now realise I need to crow about my status as a “vet” because much of what we valued is in danger of being lost and we need to pass it on and preserve it. Not all that’s old needs to be refreshed or updated.
“No, not Hallam Street… Old Broadcasting House, please” has become an almost daily shriek from me from the back of a taxi as drivers make the assumption that the sassy, flashy, open-to-all-comers, whether radio or TV, new little sister next door IS Broadcasting House. Not so.
The great ship that’s sailed along Portland Place since 1932 holds within its walls an unrivalled cultural history. Every great actor, playwright, novelist, artist, musician, politician, philosopher, scientist and comedian of the 20th and 21st centuries has passed through to share genius with a vast audience through the wireless.
I remember the first time I walked through the doors – a nervous and inexperienced young journalist – muttering, “Must have been designed by a man. You need the strength of Samson just to push them open. How would anybody manage a buggy and a baby?”
Now they open automatically – well, when they feel like it – and you can almost hear the doors themselves groaning as the teeth of the receptionists chatter because double doors designed to keep out the cold now open together and let in chilly blasts from outdoors. In retrospect, that daily battle to get them open was the only exercise a sedentary presenter got!
The old building worked with the elements. It was heated when it was cold and had windows that opened when it was warm. In this new-fangled ecological building everywhere feels like you’re sealed into a vacuum and you’re either freezing or stuffy and stale. I long for an open window and a blast of fresh air.
Then there’s the equipment. Libby Purves and I seem to be the only presenters left who insist on the old Bakelite headphones that allow you to hear the ambient sound in the studio. The new ones are big and fat and squishy and blank out everything. Oh, and don’t let’s forget the digital clock. How on earth are you supposed to time an interview to the second when you can’t see the big hands and the little hand and the numbers?
Then there’s being teased for being a stickler for good grammar or clear speech or insisting that it’s a requirement for anyone who’s going to make radio (or television for that matter) to have a well-stocked mind.
So, go on, call me old-fashioned. Dub me a veteran. I don’t care!
Jenni Murray hosts Woman’s Hour on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday this week on Radio 4
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