Saturday, 22 May 2010

Speaking to the nation from a cupboard under the stairs

My taxi pulls up to the gate at BBC TV Centre. The security guard asks the driver who he is there to see. He jerks his thumb over his shoulder to where I am sitting. The back windows must be tinted because the security man peers through the driver’s open window to look at me. From the look of disappointment on his face, he had been hoping for someone famous. He checks his list, and the car is allowed through and I walk into the grand art deco entrance.

I am due to be taken to the 5Live studio. A producer is to meet and prepare me for the interview which will take place “down the line” to the Stephen Nolan programme in Manchester. For some reason, the receptionist insists that the producer doesn’t work there, and escorts me to a tiny studio under the stairs beneath the reception of Television Centre.

There are no producers to be seen. This can’t be right. “No problem,” says the receptionist, “It will all work fine, as long as this light is on here,” indicating the power switch on the wall.

It is the hottest day of the year and there is no air-conditioning. I undo a couple of shirt buttons and gulp some water as I look around. The “studio” resembles a store room more than a place from which one can broadcast to the nation. The new government may well whine about excessive spending at the BBC, but I can assure them that there has not been any excessive spending here. There are two pairs of headphones on the coffee-stained table, one of them is in several pieces, the other has wires escaping from some unstuck gaffer tape. I sit on the chair and sink so low I can barely rest my chin on the desk top. I reach for the headphones, which I have to hold in place so they don’t slip off my head, and wait.

Nothing happens.

Sweat is dripping off me now. The interview is meant to begin any moment and I have doubts that anyone knows I’m here.

I am about to return to reception and demand to speak to a producer when lights begin to flash on the console in front of me and I can hear the disembodied voice of a producer in Manchester, sounding as if he is leading a séance. “Robin, are you there?”

Before I know it, I am speaking to Stephen Nolan and we begin the interview. It’s probably available on iPlayer somewhere, but I wouldn’t encourage anyone to listen to it. Stephen was very good, but his interviewee was not at his best.

I notice my shirt is soaking wet when I stagger back up the stairs. I turn my phone back on and see I have several messages from London-based 5Live producers, no doubt speaking from plush, air-conditioned studios, wondering where on earth I am.

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