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Posts Tagged ‘television’

When I was a child, being raised as a boy, I was kind of an isolated one. Not so isolated before the age of nine, when I had my first clear sense of gender variance, but even before then I would tend to play by myself (I was quite asthmatic which was also limiting) and was obsessed in general with cultural artifacts rather than people. 

Music to begin with, played on our Deccalian record player and then ultimately our Dansette. But very quickly comics (I stole a comic from a cafe when I was about four!) and TV, particularly science fiction. And love of SF TV led at around 12 to love of written science fiction, firstly through Isaac Asimov‘s collection of stories I, Robot, as I was a robot nut. And then in the teen years my musical tastes widened tremendously, so you can find many different types of music and artists on our shelves at home. So I guess I was pretty geeky, and socially awkward in my teens for all the usual reasons plus the transgender reasons on top.

Great Science-Fiction

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Geek for some people is of course a negative term but I think it’s cool to be one (don’t like the term nerd however). And actually I’m an incredibly wide-ranging geek – I’m into all sorts of stuff. Which I think is one of the things that makes me good at my job – working with academic staff in all different disciplines across the University of East Anglia – because I am interested in what they’re up to and have enough geeky skills to talk a bit of their language and understand some of what they’re talking about, whether they’re a historian or teaching on a medical degree.

So I guess I know a lot about certain things (I can recognize whether a comic has been drawn by Steve Ditko, or Ron Embleton, or Barry Windsor-Smith, or Gene Colan, or Frank Bellamy, or Dave Gibbons … I’ll stop now), and a little about a lot. I ain’t no scientist, but I’ve heard of buckyballs.

But the reason I am writing about all this stuff is because a geek’s relationship to their geeky objects of interest is complicated. Initially it was just stuff I loved. And it was good stuff … it’s been kind of weird to treasure all this pop culture stuff as a child and then discover people teaching about it years later at universities. I didn’t see that coming based on the snobbery of some of the teachers when I was at university.

However as I became more troubled about my gender (and as an only child didn’t even have a sibling to consider daring to tell about my transness) some of these things became more a comfort blanket, a defence against the world, and an inert “friend” who would never contradict me.

So has that all changed since I’ve transitioned? Yes, but in slightly subtle ways. This is a kind of experimental bit of thinking here folks, but let me try and explain what I mean. My interest in music, for example, is kind of what I might define as “open-ended geekiness”, because the more you get interested in it the more possibilities open up.

I started as a child by liking Lonnie Donegan (you must hear his version of Frankie and Johnny) and Cliff Richard (well, I was a UK child of the sixties). But following my nose for interesting and different sounds has led me, to give a randomish selection, to Michael Nesmith’s post-Monkees career, Vaughan Williams, Little Feat, Maria Muldaur, the Thompson and Wainwright dynasties, Duke Ellington, David Lindley, Brian Wilson, Ian Dury, Bonnie Raitt, Aretha Franklin, Goldfrapp, Natalie Merchant, Mint Royale (check out their version of the Ask the Family theme tune, I’m not kidding!), Soft Cell, Stevie Wonder, Timbuk 3, June Tabor, Billie Holiday, fantastic film composers like Bernard Herrmann, and the genius of Delia Derbyshire (whose work is known by almost everyone in the UK but whose name is known by almost none). I’ve left you a lot of stuff to look up there but with no links – consider it homework!

So although you could be a jazz obsessive (and there’s nothing wrong with that anyway) in my case music keeps steering me through more and more interesting doors and is endlessly rewarding. Latest joyous discovery? The Decemberists a few days ago.

I could write a similar list about movies, particularly after Basil Edwards, my English teacher at secondary school, introduced us to foreign movies. I have a wide-ranging interest in movies and television. And in due course, when home video technology began to develop in interesting directions, my interest in movies and TV also developed into an interest in these technologies, and in collecting.

I was one of the relatively few people in the UK to buy a laserdisc player in the 1980s (for younger readers, these were early double-sided videodiscs the size of old vinyl Lps). LD became a relatively successful format in the USA when it was re-focused at movie buffs, but was pretty unsuccessful in the UK so you had to be obsessed to find players and discs. And over time, with the development of DVD and other home cinema technologies, I became even more obsessed with getting a really good home set-up, with surround sound and based around the first really decent plasma TV in the UK (which I did, around 2002).

And I’m not dissing it – it’s great to watch movies on. But a couple of years after I’d set up my nice plasma, surround amp and speakers, DVD player, personal video recorder, then along came High Definition and Blu-Ray. And I felt that pressure, to keep up at the leading edge of tech etc etc.

Only I know that this kind of obsessive geekism was, in part, one of the ways in which I was avoiding facing up to my transness – I had a comforting hobby which was a lot of fun, and didn’t involve people much, and kept changing/evolving etc. But it was secondary to the real interest, which was movies – it was about a better way of seeing them to be sure. But on the technology side, I guess I’m focussing on the fact that the technology was “obedient” and “loyal” and did what I wanted – and the outside world wasn’t like that and I always felt would bite me if I was honest about my gender identity.

That may sound a weird connection to make, but I think it’s about putting energy into something else because I was too scared to put in energy to dealing with my true self. And the reason I think there’s a connection is that although my love of music continues, and my love of movies continues, my obsession with keeping on the teetering edge of technology has gone.

Initially I thought it was just because transition keeps you very busy – at this stage it’s like having a second full-time job. But actually, I don’t need the comfort blanket anymore. Because the other thing that has changed is I am much less of a loner than I used to be, and much more of a social person. To put it like that is something of a caricature, ‘cos I did have a lot of fun with friends and family pre-transition, but it’s an interesting difference of emphasis. A lot of preoccupations from before I acknowledged I was a woman have changed, shifted, in some cases disappeared. And a lot of new interests have started to arise because, I think, I am free to be myself (my true self) for the first time in my life.

So the good geeky bits (which I use in life and work) are preserved, and the geeky bits about hiding from the world because I was scared of it have receded. I was much shyer trying to live as a man than I am now I’ve accepted I was always a woman and am able to live as one.

But there’s another, final dimension to this, which is that I wanted to try and be creative before I transitioned – to write, to perform, but I was generally too scared to have a proper go at it. So I went to work for a comics/SF distribution company, rather than try and write. And I acquired a huge music collection rather than play music. Everything always at one, or more, remove. I got dragged into doing a bit of writing in the end, but only ‘cos other people believed in me, not ‘cos I did.

I am not trying to generalize about trans people here. Many are very successful before they transition and I was not totally unsuccessful, but I made a lot of early career/life choices based on having a very low opinion of myself. But lot of trans people do feel very stuck, because they can’t see how to engage fully with life. And they find ways round it, but they are often ways which involving hiding and denying their truest self, and therefore not taking opportunities when they present themselves.

That’s changed for me now – I have a sense of life and creative opportunities opening up, just as I wished they would in my younger years because, finally, I believe in myself. And my geekiness has evolved – it no longer dominates me, it’s just part of my toolkit.

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Probably not … but it makes for a possibly Google-friendly article title  …

The Mark 2 fibreglass (Tom Yardley-Jones) Tard...

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The idea that the Doctor, lead character in the world’s longest-running SF TV series Doctor Who, might become female is sure to spark controversy among the show’s most hardcore fans. The UK mainstream audience, on the other hand (in the UK Doctor Who is regularly the biggest non-soap drama in the ratings) only occasionally gets a whiff of this controversy.

Fans tend to resist the idea instinctively, influenced of course by the character now having a television history stretching back nearly 50 years (47 years today, in fact) beginning in one of the BBC’s lowest-tech sixties studios in Lime Grove, West London, and currently residing in purpose-designed facilities in Cardiff, shot in high definition and supported by cutting-edge CGI.

I number myself as a hardcore fan, with a long-term relationship to this wonderful character stretching back to my early childhood. So I have a vested interest. For those unfamiliar with Doctor Who (familiarity varies outside the UK), it concerns an extra-terrestrial hero who travels throughout space and time in a remarkable vehicle (the Tardis) which was disguised, during a visit to the UK in 1963, as a Police telephone box (very common on UK streets at the time), only for the technology to break down and the Tardis to become stuck in that form. Although in fact the reason for that is budgetary – it was cheaper to stick with one prop rather than devise a new one for each story, so the Tardis’ ability to disguise itself became broken. By such happy accidents are cuiltural icons made.

When the actor playing the Doctor, William Hartnell, had to leave due to ill health the BBC wanted to carry on making the programme and hit upon another pragmatic, though potent idea – regeneration. The idea that, when the Doctor faces death, his body renews itself, and he gains a new appearance, thus allowing a new actor to step into the role. When second Doctor Patrick Troughton wanted to leave it was obvious that the process could be repeated, and another actor found (Troughton was my absolute favourite until the 2005 revival delivered a succession of fine actors in the role). And so a tradition was born, with the ability to reinvent the role and the programme. And in due course, everytime regeneration looms, speculation as to who will be the new Doctor is now national UK news.

Each actor playing the Doctor has playeed him differently – the character might be described as having the same essential characteristics but a body and personality that allows him to express those in different ways. I often wondered, while watching these adventures, what it would be like if you really changed your appearance, and outward behaviour, and had to relate to the world in a different way as a result. Now I know what it feels like to regenerate, because in a way I’ve done just that.

The first time the idea of the Doctor regenerating as a woman leaked out significantly into the public consciousness was during the tenure of John Nathan-Turner as Producer. JNT, as he was known, was happy to say almost anything that might yield publicity for the show. He teased the audience about dispensing with the Police Box version of the Tardis (note to all producers in perpetuity – never do this). And among other things, he did periodically speculate about such a radical piece of recasting. The only time it has fleetingly ‘kind of’ happened, is in the spoof Doctor Who story The Curse of the Fatal Death, penned by Steven Moffat a few years back for Comic Relief. The luminous Joanna Lumley briefly became the Doctor – you can find it on YouTube.

Whenever this idea came up, as a fan I totally pooh-poohed it. Shortly before transitioning, I attended a talk by then show-runner Russell T Davies (look, I am a hardcore fan, OK?) at which someone asked the question. RTD also kind of pooh-poohed it, but also noted that “the more you all talk about it, the more likely it is it will happen one day”. Scant months from regeneration myself, I still firmly resisted the idea. After transitioning indeed, I have continued, until recently, to firmly resist the idea. And yet …

The Doctor has had a variety of (mostly) human travelling companions, sometimes one, sometimes more than one, and both male and female. However since 1970 the most typical configuration has been male Time Lord travelling with one female companion. This was almost always depicted as a paternal-style relationship until RTD’s revival faced up to some of the implications. One consequence of the predominance of female companions is that the programme has provided something of a running commentary on women’s roles in British society and how they are depicted on UK television. Until the 2005 reboot one other consequence is a tendency for most companions to find themselves in the role of subservient female asking questions of the “wiser” male (for the benefit of the audience and plot advancement).

Casting a woman would not only challenge any sub-textual elements of sexual politics, it would clearly change the character of the Doctor more radically, not least because in the modern era of television the pressure is on to cast the role with young and more conventionally charismatic (if occasionally quirky) lead actor. Hartnell was certainly quirky but had neither of the other two characteristics.

While the current makers of the show are certainly conscious of how they need to cast the role in a way that meets the expectations of contemporary audiences, I don’t mean to suggest that both RTD and his successor Steven Moffat haven’t trusted their own judgement to take bold, and often hugely successful decisions in respect of the show – they haven’t just “done the demographics”.  Christopher Eccleston, cast by the RTD team, was to begin with a tortured soul, and in many of the early episodes Billie Piper‘s feisty character Rose Tyler often initiated the action, solved problems and saved the day. The Doctor/Rose pairing put the companion relationship on an almost unheard-of equal footing, something that the programme makers have run with since.

So if the current creative team took the decision to cast a woman, I’m sure they’d pull off the challenge magnificently (Teletubby Daleks notwithstanding). But could the casting of the Doctor as female also play a part in increasing public awareness of, and acceptance of, trans issues? I think it could, if handled correctly.

The one thing that has changed since the programme came back is the attitude towards continuity and backstory. When RTD first revived the show in 2005 he was anxious to minimize continuity as the show had been off the air (apart from a one-off revival) for 16 years. He brilliantly trod the line of making it recognisably the show it had always been while making it totally accessible to anyone who had never seen Doctor Who before. My kids lapped it up from day one, to my enormous pleasure.

The first “revived” year was a phenomenal success, giving RTD the confidence to include more elements of the Doctor’s past, including a former companion, Sarah-Jane Smith. Since then, like icebergs with a homing instinct, large chunks of continuity have been re-integrated, now that everyone knows about tardises and Gallifrey.

And that’s why having a female Doctor could send a powerful, positive message. Admittedly, the Doctor’s transition, though painful (almost always involving literal death, folowed by rebirth) would be almost instant – not something many trans people could claim as their own experience. But it might send a subliminal, and possibly not so subliminal message.

As the tradition of the Doctor re-encountering old friends, as well as foes, has become a tradition of the revived version (the periodic return of Captain Jack and Rose, and even stretching back, via the Sarah-Jane spin-off to Jo Grant), characters would find themselves having to respond to the news, and reality, that the man they once knew was now a woman. Just as trans people’s friends, families and colleagues have to do. And as RTD always managed to include, often subtly, messages about accepting and celebrating difference, maybe the crossing of this particular boundary could get viewers, especially younger viewers thinking.

So, finally, I’m coming round to the idea, at least tentatively. The show has already had at one character who, it’s hinted, may have a trans history (the [ultimately redeemed-ish] villain Cassandra). Maybe it’s the lead character’s turn …

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Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) can arise in a lot of work environments whenever there is a combination of often-repeated activity, long hours and stress. Industrial processes, factory farming and other intensive environments are prone to some of the many different manifestations of RSI. The computerisation of workplace environments, beginning in the 1970s, generated a fresh set of problems in working areas that had hitherto been free of them. And as people begin to suffer, they often face a dilemma between telling the employer, and potentially putting their job at risk, or carrying on and making the problem worse.

Employers, of course, have legal obligations, but if you are part of a casualized workforce it may be harder to make sure that these are properly met. On the RT listings desk in 1991, hardly any sub is on a permanent contract. As employees, we therefore feel vulnerable. As an employer at that time, BBC Magazines is hyper-sensitive to the occurrence of RSI.

Hand on keyboard

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So when I start feeling pain, I become very worried. I think about the colleague I was working with early on – her hands bandaged and periodically bathed in ice during the working day..  I have to say in retrospect that I have no idea whether my symptoms fall into any classic diagnosis. What I can say is that RT immediately takes them very seriously. These are my symptoms. I start having an aching pain that follows a path on each hand from the tip of my index finger to the tip of my thumb whenever I type, sometimes accompanied by a sharper pain running from my wrist to the tip of my arm. As well as that pain, which occurs whenever I type, anything involving torque (rotational pressure) such as turning a doorknob, is now painful.

I think I spend a day or so trying to decide what to do. I only have two or three months left on my contact so I feel very vulnerable. I am also, of course, worried about long-term damage, and as other colleagues are also succumbing the whole desk is hyper-anxious about things. Workload has subsided a bit from the horrible first week of deregulation, but things are still very busy. In the end I decide not to risk worsening my health further, so I go and talk to Roger Hughes.

I am taken off VDU work immediately, and in short order seen by the BBC doctor. As with similarly affected colleagues, I am given paper-based editing tasks. While this eases the physical strain it is a slower, more tedious way of working, and then someone else has to input your copy and typesetting marks, so this effectively puts more strain on our remaining healthy colleagues. I worry about how significant, and how long-term, the damage is, but I have no doubt that stopping, rather than soldiering on, was the right thing to do.

Reluctantly, I begin to think about trying to find a job elsewhere. It’s a wrench – I have big plans for me and the BBC. Unrealistic and grandiose plans to be sure, but just the fact that I have finally found myself working for the Corporation has meant a lot to me, so it is depressing that I find myself facing possible health issues as a result.

I scour the Guardian newspaper’s media section on a Monday, which in those days is full of job ads. Before too long I find a communications and marketing vacancy at the Polytechnic of Norfh London (PNL). Based on the ad, I seem to have the right skills. As always in those days, I don’t deliberate very much about whether or not what I am contemplating is a good career move, except that it is still a journalism-oriented post. I don’t know much about PNL itself, but send off my application.

After a few weeks away from typing, I start to feel better. I get reassessed by the doctor, and get the OK to go back onto keyboard work, which I do … cautiously. Although I never suffer the same symptoms typing (I am much more cautious these days, good posture, screen breaks etc etc – please do the same, anyone reading this), for years if I do certain kinds of physical work such as big Do-It-Yourself jobs around the house, the pain returns. My natural antipathy towards DIY  helps here, and I am happy to report that it is many years since I have felt those original symptoms.

At about the same time as I go back to the VDU I receive an invitation to interview at PNL. I traipse down in my one and only suit, and am interviewed by a panel including the current Head of Communications and Marketing, Miranda Bell. I give good interview, and get offered the post. If I take it, the hazard of a short-term contract is removed. I decide to accept the job and return to working in the University sector, little realizing the colossal career-changing consequences of doing so.

When I share the news with one of my colleagues, he suggests that I will have my work cut out for me, because PNL is the location of the Patrick Harrington case. Although I remember the case, I had not realized PNL was the institution involved, so even before I start I worry whether I have made the right decision. It turns out that the shadow of the case does loom, but not as largely as I worry it might. On the other hand, in order to get proper leaving paperwork from BBC Magazines, I am asked to sign a piece of paper basically saying that I will never make any medical or compensatory claims against the BBC, even though my RSI occurred while in their employ. I am appalled by this behaviour, but feel like I have little choice. Luckily, by stopping work soon after I had symptoms, I seem to have avoided significant injury, but I can’t be sure everyone forced to sign a piece of paper like that was in the same position.

Ironically, the listings desk give me a very nice farewell mini-party and I feel sad to be leaving my sub-editing chums. Party and paperwork of course contrast in my mind, and I am disappointed that my media career ambitions (daft though they probably are) are on hold. Little do I know the interesting twists and turns my career then takes in the following years …

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The day finally arrives – after briefings, training, pep talks etc – that the listings desk begins work on the first multi-channel edition of Radio Times. By this time I am quite nicely settled in and considered a valuable member of the team, even mentoring some of our newer arrivals to boot. It doesn’t mean I don’t make mistakes. All of us do and as a result face the possibility of ritual humiliation by P–. But I have a bit of perspective on that particular risk of flagellation and feel like I know what I’m doing. I still harbour naïve hopes that working on RT may lead to a glittering media career, but for the time being I am having a nice time with my fellow subs, who are a nice bunch.

All of that is about to change as a result of the chaotic, stressful few weeks we are about to embark on. The first multi-channel edition leads to one of those weeks where everything changes. In the olden days we would wait for the BBC-only listings material to arrive, a predictable and straightforward process leading to four slightly varied editions. From this week we await the arrival of listings from ITV and Channel Four, and the production of some thirteen quite significantly varied editions. On the anticipated day, the BBC send their listings to TV Times. Channel 4’s information arrives with us, and is fine. ITV‘s info arrives a little late, and is scanty, with big gaps in both information and cast lists. As they have routinely been supplyiing this to their own publication for over thirty years, I will leave it to you to speculate why the informaton they supply to us is inadequate. We did a hell of a lot of speculation ourselves at the time, and came to certain conclusions.

A ripple of panic spreads across the listings desk. How are we going to put our pages together unless we make stuff up, which is not ideal for a publication treasured for its authority and accuracy. To use a four-letter word … egad! What’s to become of us?

 

A desk in an office.

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The answer to that is, twenty years later, a bit of a blur in my memory. We do make a chunk of stuff up, frantically scrabbling around to work out who on the desk knows something about Emmerdale, or about Taggart, or whichever ITV programme. TV trivia is hurriedly exchanged from desk to desk in order to fill gaping holes in our column inches, but without cast lists, episode titles etc it does not look good. Senior RT staff frantically lobby ITV to extract the information we have been promised from them which does finally arrive, albeit agonizingly late.

The effect of all of this is to turn press day into a scene from Dante (“And we’ll have more tortured souls rotating on a spit after the break!”). Let me describe a pre-multi-channel press day to you. Press day is Tuesday, and on those days subs work on late until P– has approved their pages. Sometimes this means last minute adjustments, sometimes just a bunch of waiting around until P– approves your copy. Once your pages are approved you can go. The following morning when you come back in (slightly late is OK) you make slight variations of your pages for the Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland editions. The late working every Tuesday is compensated for by a so-called WOODS Day (I can’t remember what this stands for, sorry), which essentially means every other Friday off, which is nice.

in the multi-channel era WOODS days go, at least temporarily, out of the window. It’s all hands to the pump to get this baby to press. The first week, as we frantically try to magic up the programme information ITV has not provided for us, is stress-filled chaos. Somehow, those empty-column inches are filled, and we go to press. It has, however, been a long press day – 10am to 10pm for pretty much all of us. It’s so late and we are so punchdrunk that the editors order cabs for all the subs, rather than just pushing us out onto the tube. We head for home exhausted, but also knowing that we have to be back the following morning to generate another 13 or so variant editions. Not only is the workload exchausting, but the quality of work is also affected as there is just so much to do.

Although nothing in subsequent weeks quite matches that first week the pressure on us only eases slightly. In the end, ITV grudgingly start coming up with the necessary information on time, so at least we have encough “stuff” to fill our pages. But it remains a very pressurised environment. We spend hours hunched over our terminals. Good posture and screen breaks go out of the window because of the pressure to get the magazine out – what we produce has to be at least as good, and ideally better than our competitors.

In that intensive environment, symptoms of RSI, which I had first encountered through assisting a suffering colleague in my first weeks on the listings desk, start to hit several subs. So not only are we under huge pressure – some of us are buckling and as a result putting more pressure on those who remain. It is not a good situation at all. We all feel exhausted and stressed out. Then one morning, when I settle down at my desk and start work, I suddenly start to feel pain in my hands and arms …

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I keep plugging away at Roger Hughes to give me a try on the Radio Times listings desk before my contract runs out. On the dummies side there is still work to be done, but clearly it will come to an end before too long. Roger’s response is generally vaguely positive, but the first couple of times this discussion doesn’t lead anywhere. Then one day he comes and tells me that there is an opening. I will initially be transferred up there on my existing (short) contract, but if I’d like to have a go …

Computer Workstation Variables

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I jump at the chance to make myself a more established part of the RT team, and a few days later wander into the huge room that is the listings desk. Initially my work is not quite what I was expecting. At that time, the room is organised in a particular way. At one end is Roger and his editorial team – Jane Rackham and Kilmeny Fane-Saunders. Stretching out from there are the TV listings sub-editors, presided over by the chief sub P– (let’s just call her that, particularly as I can’t remember her surname). At the far end are the radio listings sub-editors, reflecting their relative status.

My task in the first weeks is to work with one of the radio subs, but for reasons I was not anticipating. This woman is suffering from Repetitive Strain Injury. RSI can result from many different kinds of intensive, repetitive work-based actions, but by this time has become a particular concern in the newspaper and magazine industry. The migration from typewriters to computer terminals in high pressure newsrooms in the 1980s without considering workplace ergonomics led to several high profile cases (and legal action), initially in the USA. RT, as I am about to discover, can be a very high pressure environment, and as a result RSI is much on the mind of management, and of staff.

I guess another reason why I am working with my unwell colleague is both to assess my capabilities and to give me a slice of on the job training before letting me loose solo. I have no idea, in retrospect, what Roger thinks of me at this stage but I retain a low-ish opinion of myself as per usual. A few weeks before I leave the small team who are working on dummies a high profile designer is parachuted into the team to work with the in-house designer. A tall, blond, wind-surfing type, he is one of these people for whom everything seems effortless, particularly from my perspective. Design demi-god – check. Sporting demi-god – check. Then, for goodness sake, it evens turns out he has written pop lyrics, for Sinead O’Connor I think. I am not worthy …

In fact, however, he is very affable and when, on one occasion, I bring in my final issue of Speakeasy to show my little team, he is very complimentary about the finished product, remarking how nice it must be to put a magazine together about something you love so much (little does he know). In my grand old tradition, I cannot accept the sincerity of his words, though in retrospect I know he meant everything he said.

After a few weeks helping my colleague on her radio pages, I am finally let loose on television pages of my own! My original three month contract is extended by another six months. I will therefore get used to working on the existing version of RT and be part of the team that transmogrifies it into a multi-channel magazine. I am excited, although a little anxious about my colleague’s RSI – it’s clearly an issue that the editorial team are sensitive about. In due course the health issues associated with the production environment will feel a little closer to home …

Moving onto television means I also move into the middle of the room, closer to chief sub P–‘s prowling eye. Some of the day-to-day working detail is fuzzy in my memory from this distance, but essentially sub-editors are given a day – so I might be the sub for Tuesday’s listings – and then we also check each other’s days for factual accuracy etc before they are passed up the line to P–. As the magazine is still BBC-only, regional variations are minor – just a couple of changes each day for the editions going to Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland.

There is also a “highlights” page with brief articles on some of the most interesting programmes on that day. In the end I am allowed to write some of these, based on information provided by the programme-makers. This is quite fun, but on one memorable occasion I come unstuck describing an edition of a cookery programme featuring British Lions. I think this refers to the rugby team (in the absence of other info) and write a story about “ravenous rugby players”, whereas in fact the people involved are from the charity of the (nearly) same name. I seem to recall this is seen as such a phenomenal howler that my description is actually ridiculed in print in Time Out. I am of course hugely embarrassed, but this is the kind of working environment where embarrassment is for sharing.

If you have never worked for RT, you may not appreciate how, particularly when it still only listed BBC programmes, it enjoyed a rather difficult status within the corporation. Understandably, BBC programme-makers were very interested in how their programmes were described in RT, and how many column inches they were given. For the production staff, this is a balancing act to make the listings for a given day fit the available space. But at BBC programme-planning meetings, that week’s RT would always be open and complaints uttered by those who felt the coverage was insufficient.

If the coverage was also inaccurate then the programme makers were likely to complain, and RT editorial staff were of course very sensitive to these complaints. This tradition of RT being a focus for programme makers’ disgruntlement, or sometimes anger, was a well-established tradition by the time I came to work for RT. So to shift back into present tense and resume the narrative …

Press day for RT is Tuesday. That is, we finalize copy on a Tuesday night for each edition which will be published the following Tuesday. This can often be a late night, while we wait for P– to make a final check, approve our pages and send them to press. All the paperwork for that issue is then stuck in manila envelopes, one per transmission day, and filed away.

When the magazine comes out, if programme makers or channel controllers are unhappy with anything they read about the programmes they are responsible for, they are quick to phone up editorial and complain. If the problem is deemed a serious one, P– delves into the archives and pull out the relevant envelope, so she can inspect the handiwork of the doomed sub who worked on it. It is then you hear her bloodcurdling cry, “Who worked on Tuesday’s pages for Week 43”. If it turns out to be you, you must troop up to her desk for a ritual humiliation in front of all your colleagues. For me, this experience feels like prep school – I flash back to my treatment at the hands of some of the more bullying teachers at Keble Preparatory School.

Pretty much everyone finds themselves in hot water at one time or another. I am singled out a couple of times, and find it hideously humiliating. Nonetheless, before too long I find my contract extended by a further six months, to my delight. That December, I have my first and only experience of working on the Christmas edition of RT – a bumper magazine that covers two weeks. The Christmas edition comes out quite early, so in the run up to that the workload increases significantly as we have to accelerate the production process, putting together a magazine every four working days rather than five so that the preceding issues can come out early as well. As a result of course, mistakes are more likely, press nights longer etc. After the Christmas edition we then produce the first edition of the new year – finalized around mid-December – before collapsing in a heap as a result of overwork. Things are then quiet for a few days so subs can go away early for Christmas if they wish to.

I wish to. Beth and myself then troop up to my in-laws in Mold for Christmas, to a house, like many, boasting a copy of the Christmas Radio Times that I have just worked on. As I leaf through it I discover, to my pain and anxiety, a mistake on the pages I was responsible for. I brace myself for a telling off on my return in January, but oddly it doesn’t happen. In the new year, we will be gearing up to change the magazine entirely, from BBC only to multi-channel. The early part of 1991 turns out to be incident-packed as a result, as new staff pour in and we struggle to cope with listing ITV, Channel 4 and satellite programming …

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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

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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.

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BSB's Five Channels: The Sports Channel, Galax...

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In 1990, the UK broadcasting landscape is very different to today. Most people have access to just four channels – BBC1, BBC2, the federation of regional companies which together make up ITV, and Channel 4. Change is afoot though. In March of that year British Satellite Broadcasting (BSB) launches. This is the officially licensed and UK Government sanctioned satellite service. It consists of (in fact, is legislatively and technically limited to) five channels including one which relies heavily on BBC archive material, and uses a different technical standard to terrestrial analogue’s PAL, offering superior pictures to the handful of UK televisions able to take advantage of it.

BSB limps to market late, hampered by marketing a new type of flat satellite dish, the squarial, and then having to spend months trying to develop a working model. In the meantime, outside of UK regulation, newspaper magnate Rupert Murdoch has bought an obscure satellite channel called SKY Channel (a home for re-runs of American sitcoms and adventure series) which is only available in the UK to the the handful of homes at the time with access to cable television. He revamps it into a four-channel service and manages to launch before BSB, offering (among other things) new cult cartoon series The Simpsons. BSB had not expected any competition and a battle ensues which will take some time to resolve. It can count me as one of its loyal customers though, thanks to my interest in archive television. Unlike today, not much of this stuff is commercially available, and from the outset BSB offers access to lots of sixties episodes of Doctor Who. Often on ropy prints, but I am nonetheless blissfully happy,

At the same time, the British Government makes moves to deregulate the UK TV listings market. This is dominated by two publications. Radio Times (RT) is published by the BBC, and despite the title carries listings and information about BBC television, as well as radio. TV Times is published by ITV, and lists their programmes as well as Channel 4’s. These various broadcasters enjoy copyright in their listings, and so only they can publish schedules and programme details significantly in advance. Newspapers are generally restricted, apart from at weekends and public holidays, to publishing details of television on the day the programmes are broadcast. As a result of these restrictions, Radio Times and TV Times enjoy huge sales, both topping the magazine chart by shifting around three million copies each weekly. And of course people must buy both magazines in order to know what’s on all four channels.

All that is about to change. The Conservative Government is a serial de-regulator and has turned its attention to the listings market. In Spring 1991 the market will open up: the BBC will be able to list ITV and Channel 4’s programmes, and vice versa. Other competitors will be able to enter the market. For these two cosy publications, a huge time of change is looming.

By the summer of 1990 Radio Times‘ preparations are in full swing, and I see an advert offering the chance to work on the development of the new version. Steeped in television knowledge as I am, I apply, and to my delight am invited to interview. It is chaired by Listings Editor Roger Hughes, an urbane and humorous man who, I will discover, rules listings with a light, if slightly inconsistent touch. I *think* Jane Rackham, one of the senior journalists, is also on the panel (Jane is still at RT today).

I do a little test before the interview, and then remarkably feel quite relaxeds once in the room (even though I don’t regard myself as a “real” journalist). RT is feeling its way towards this brave new world and a lot of decisions have yet to be set in stone. Roger asks me if he thinks the magazine should have satellite listings. Yes, I say boldly, adding nerdishly that I have BSB at home. I make herculean efforts to show that I know my stuff.

A few days later they offer me a job in the team working on internal dummy editions. Ultimately, by creating a succession of dummies for consideration by the powers that be, we will shape what the new Radio Times will be like. In the first instance, the contract is only for three months, so it’s an indication of my desperation to get away from JBP (plus my keenness to work at the BBC) that I say yes instantly, even though I may be unemployed by Christmas as a result.

I meet with John and hand in my resignation (the second person in the course of a few days, although I can’t remember who the first person was). In the process I bequeath my tickets to San Diego to Stuart, even though I now have my Brian Keenan looalike passport. John does not plead with me heroically to stay – no doubt because he has realized that Stuart and I can never successfully work together. I give the traditional month’s notice and set to work on my final issue of Speakeasy.

Ironically, by the time of my last issue I have absolutely nailed putting this puppy together. I am close to Rian Hughes’ original design but not slavishly so. I have just got my file copy out and it looks good – better than I remember it even. So at the height of my comics news editing powers, I leave to face another challenge, which surely can’t be as hellish as the one I am leaving. In fact it isn’t, but nonetheless the next few months are turbulent ones, as RT struggles to fit into the new world order of deregulated listings …

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