Here’s a Friday Fun with a bit of a difference. I read Jeremy Vine’s recent tome this week, It’s All News To Me. It was simply hilarious. Laugh-out loud funny, in fact. And he says it’s all true. So I guess it must be. He is a BBC journalist, after all. It’s not to say that it’s all light and fluffy – there are moments of necessary reflection and poignancy along the way (especially in the account of his years in Africa), as well as real insight as he reflects on what actually constitutes news.
But the majority of the book is taken up with various ‘rules’ for success in journalism. They are many and varied. I’m considering appropriating them to the life of ministry. But anyway – for a bit of fun, here are a few of my favourite laugh-out loud moments.
On the complexity of working at the BBC.
One night I found the top drawer of my desk jammed shut. I rang maintenance. An hour later two workmen in blue overalls arrived with tools and levered the drawer open.
I thanked them, but just as they were leaving I tried to push the drawer closed again and found it would not budge.
‘Hey sorry, excuse me-’ I called them back in. ‘The drawer’s open, but it won’t shut now.’
‘Sorry mate,’ they said. ‘You need someone else for that.’
It was not just the drawers that needed shutting. I was doing a piece on Muhammad Ali and wanted some original recordings of the Rumble in the Jungle, the great fight between Ali and Foreman. So I asked the switchboard to put me through to the boxing department.
After some clicking and ringing, a woman at the other end said: ‘Hello, boxing?’
‘Hi. Do you have the soundtrack for the fight between Ali and Foreman? The one where-’
She interrupted me. ‘No, sorry love, we’re nothing to do with sport. This is the department that puts things in boxes.’ (p58)
Being able to enjoy the disloyal wit of politicians:
In 1995 John Major told a private meeting of his backbenchers: ‘When your back’s against the wall, it’s time to turn around and start fighting.’ One of the MPs in the room came out and told me, ‘We wondered what the wall had done wrong.’ (p96)
Being able to enjoy delicious ironies when engaging with politicians (this after putting an embarrassingly awkward question to Peter Mandelson during the (in)famous journey of the Newsnight camper van around the country):
I felt bad for Peter. Newsnight had plotted our journey through his constituency, which he would have enjoyed, but the actual encounter would have left him feeling he had played along and been suckered. Not only that, but there was no way of furiously exiting a 1976 Volkswagen camper without losing your dignity, and pictures were spread across the papers too.
The following day my phone went. Isobel was driving and I took the call in the passenger seat. ‘Hello, Jeremy’ said the familiar voice. ‘I just want you to know I don’t mind what happened.’
‘Thank you, Peter,’ I said.
‘But I’ve seen the papers.’
‘And what I hate, about all of you, is the way you spin.’
Said without even a hint of irony, it was probably the highest compliment he had ever paid. (p117)
Finding himself the butt of politicians’ humour:
My seniors [Jeremy Paxman and Kirsty Wark] were both off when Tony Blair agreed, at short notice, to be thrown questions by voters in a school (against my better judgment, I asked the Prime Minister the question: ‘And if literacy is not improved for under-fives, as you have promised, will you resign?’ Blair just laughed.)
Newsnight was magnificent, but not perfect. In New Hampshire to report on the run-up to the American presidential election of 2000, James Stephenson and I ended up watching Al Gore speak to a small audience in a school. Gore drew laughter when someone passed him a scrap of paper. He inhaled deeply and said: ‘Well, this is a first for me in public life. Would the owner of car registration PG7 88FJ… would the owner please move it as you are blocking a throughway.’ He laughed. The audience joined in. James and I started laughing heartily too – until we discovered it was our vehicle, the Newsnight hire car, which had been towed. (p213)
Being able to share great moments from other journalists:
Justin [Webb] flew down to South Africa the same year , to commentate on the Queen’s visit to Cape Town. The monitors in his makeshift studio went blank just as the cameras zoomed in on the Royal Yacht Britannia.
‘KEEP TALKING ABOUT THE YACHT,’ the director shouted in Justin’s ear, so he did.
‘And there she is, nearly seven hundred royal visits, a million miles on the clock, and still no need of a refit.’
Unfortunately the line went out over a close-up of the Queen. (p335)
There are plenty other moments where they came from. All in all, a great read.