Having dutifully sent my final issue of Speakeasy to press, I sort of work to rule. Despite all my own difficulties and failure to take advantage of the opportunity, a key reason I need to leave JBP comes in a black leather indie music package. Two sides to every story of course, but to say I have not felt supported there is, I think, generous understatement. As a result I am
not desperate to make things easy for the person taking over from the job I feel I have been eased out of. After leaving I have one, final Speakeasy commitment, and it’s a very exciting one – the chance to interview one of my childhood heroes, Gerry Anderson. I can’t quite remember how this comes about, but Gerry is a very suitable interviewee for the magazine, not least because of the sixties comic TV Century 21, inspired by his many television series.
Originally the plan is to interview Gerry in his London office, so I am of course incredibly excited at the opportunity to meet him. In the end though, logistics and Gerry’s workload get in the way and we settle for a telephone interview. So one evening at home I nervously telephone and speak to his wife Mary, who has been liaising on arrangement thus far. She passes me onto Gerry and I spend a blissful hour talking with this soft-spoken, thoughtful man about the shows and comic strips he has been involved in that I have loved since childhood. At the end he is very complimentary about my knowledge of his work and the questions I have asked, adding that this is one of the most enjoyable interviews he’s ever taken part in. Defnitely the nicest spin-off of my period on Speakeasy.
By the time I manage to interview Gerry, I am already established at Radio Times, working on multi-channel dummies. At the time the magazine is based in the BBC’s building at 35 Marylebone High Street in London, a premises we share with the Beeb’s (at the time wonderful) local radio station for London, GLR. Although the magazine is produced using a rather elaborate newspaper publishing system, our little team is working on Macs (another useful skillset I could point to at interview). Because of the standard to which RT is published they are using Quark Xpress to produce the dummies, rather than PageMaker. I am not a Quark Xpert but I mostly need to fit into templates created by the graphics people, so I cope with things OK.
Our little team combines journalists and graphic designers. Later on I work with so many others at RT that most names are lost in the mists of time. However despite my own low opinion of my abilities I fit in well to the team and we are soon successfully churning out test pages for consideration by the Editor and other senior staff. RT’s Editor at the time is a lovely chap called Nick Brett. Look – he’s popped up here! Nick has joined RT from working at The Times, and from our team’s fairly minimal contact with him he seems an energeting and charismatic figure.
To begin with there are two designers and, including myself, two journalists. My fellow journalist has a more impressive background than me (he has worked as a sub-editor at Time Out for example) but I have more knowledge of TV. As is usual in finding myself working with established professionals I am slightly deferential towards him. I am much more relaxed around the graphic designers as I don’t have to demonstrate their level of skill, and they are both very amiable anyway. Detaches from the pressures of producing the weekly magazine we form a happy and sociable team.
We are all, of course, conscious that the work is finite. My fellow journo is not especially anxious at this, confident he can just go onto another job. One of the designers is on the staff, so she will just go back into the design team, while the other is freelance but equally relaxed about the short-term nature of the contract. I, on the other hand, very quickly lay plans to try and get redeployed into the listings team. Firstly that offers the prospect of a longer term contract, and secondly now I am working for the BBC I have hopes not only that I can stay there, but that this may be (finally) the proper start of an illustrious media career.
I have one opportunity to demonstrate my skill to Roger Hughes at this early stage. Towards the back of RT there are a couple of pages listing BBC local radio programmes. The plan in the new version is that this will be replaced by two pages of “highlights”, featuring brief mini-features on two or three programmes to be broadcast that week. Roger gives me the task of coming up with the stories for a dummy of this section, that have a suitable “local radio” flavour but are also interesting and lend themselves to illustration.
I rise to the challenge, come up with several fictitious examples and identify suitable illustrations – my designer colleagues then lay these pages out. When they go to the editorial board they are very well received, and more importantly it shows Roger that I can write. Whenever the opportunity arises, I ask him whether there are likely to be opportunities on the listings desk. I know that there is likely to be an increase in staff as the launch of the multi-channel version gets closer. Roger generally responds vaguely, but positively, and so my hopes increase that my period at Radio Times might be a long one.