Publish and Be Damned

In 2001, when I’d only been with the BBC for six months, the assistant editor at the station decided in her wisdom to put my daily, speech only, current affairs and consumer show forward for an award. Not just any award: I’m talking about the most prestigious award in British radio. The Sony Radio Academy Awards have stood the test of time and have sought to recognise the very best of the UK radio industry, nationally, regionally and locally. As you might imagine I was flattered in the extreme that someone, anyone might think my lunchtime show worthy of such accolade. Yet the powers that be were convinced that my show had all the hallmarks of success. All of the entry forms were completed, all of the necessary recordings were carefully gathered together on a single disc and the whole thing was sent off to the academy complete with a ‘citation’ and biography. In film terms this would be the equivalent to the Oscars. It’s an Emmy, a Grammy, a Tony, it’s the top of the tree, and the mere fact that someone, anyone might think those thoughts of one’s work is a dizzy experience. Of course I wasn’t going to win, or even come close, but they thought I could, and that was enough for me.

On 11th September 2001 I was in the studio interviewing Tony Clarke, the then member of parliament for Northampton South when I noticed something strange on the muted T.V in the corner. There was smoke coming from one of the World Trade Centre buildings in New York. The following day after the full extent of the horror had become more than clear to the world, my producer told me that a Lawyer from Northampton, who had been on the 57th floor of the north tower was on the line and wanted to speak via the radio to his parents: to assure them that he was alive. He’d had a problem getting hold of them. There is no question that that interview, which incidentally had been ‘picked up’ by various media around the world, was one of the most moving experiences of my broadcasting career. Not only was he on the line from New York, but his father from Northampton was on the other line. His story was truly amazing.  (see http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/1540146.stm uncredited).  A firsthand account of an escape from an event that had killed 2,996 people. It was this broadcast that had convinced the powers that be at the BBC to enter the Sony Awards for 2002. However, despite their enthusiasm and encouragement, I’m glad I didn’t win anything for that entry. It was entirely out of my hands and in the race to attain kudos for their station they appeared to have forgotten the morality behind the story. I should have hated with a passion to have had any recognition by my peers purely on the back of something that had had such a profound impact on so many devastated families from so many countries. Since then, and even on the same day, various BBC journalists have spoken with the same lawyer, asking the same questions and getting the same answers.  One year later the self-same regional editors at the BBC chose another journalist to actually visit Ground Zero in New York. However, there is one quote that, for me, says it all. His father Barry, from Northampton, had said: “We tried non-stop to get through to him and it was wonderful when we heard his voice.”

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