By Roz Morris, Managing Director, TV News London
It’s all there. All the current advice on making an effective professional impact in all your media interviews can be seen and heard in Mrs Thatcher’s TV and radio interviews first as Conservative Leader of the Opposition and then as UK Prime Minister.
She was well aware not just of how to make her interview content memorable but also how to deliver her messages and look the part. First the look. If you don’t look right on TV, we the great viewing public don’t listen to you. You must pay attention to looking credible. And of course you have to look and sound confident, well-informed and authoritative as well in order to have a fighting chance of getting anyone to remember anything you say.
Like the Queen, Mrs Thatcher started off her career in public life, when she became an MP in 1959, with the high voice tones of the 1950’s housewife. For those who don’t remember when women had to have little voices (In the 1950’s the accepted modes of communication included mannerisms like that current unbelievably horrendous French yoghurt advert with the simpering woman who giggles and puts her hands over her sweet little face- astonishing that this stuff is still around in the 21st century!) you can listen to Her Majesty or to Mrs Thatcher’s early recordings. You will hear the high light tones of women in a man’s world
Margaret Thatcher was criticised for changing her voice – but then she was criticised for everything she did. In fact lower voices work well on radio and TV and the light old-fashioned ‘feminine’ voice doesn’t.
Mr Thatcher developed her own signature professional image with her tailored suits – always with skirts and not trousers. Suits gave her a look of authority. Jackets always frame an interviewee and make both men and women immediately look more credible on TV. The only time this doesn’t work is if you are interviewed as say an architect/surveyor/businessperson on a building site when wearing a high viz Jacket and a hard hat will be visually appropriate. Common sense applies – a care worker or a worker at a nursery can wear a cardigan and it will look appropriate. But it’s not right if you’re running the country or a company or another organisation.
The TV screen is small and makes bad teeth look big. Mrs Thatcher had hers fixed.
On the small screen, if you look even the slightest bit untidy or scruffy, people will instantly judge you as less effective. We all mentally tidy people up when they appear on the TV with any hair, or clothes out of place. TV is a ruthless medium and, as I have always pointed out to people seeking my advice on how to do your best in TV interviews, hairspray is your friend. This means men as well as women if you have hair that can blow around in the wind.
Mrs Thatcher knew that If your hair is untidy in any way, it will distract the audience and they will not be listening to you. I cannot recall ever seeing an interview where Mrs Thatcher’s hair blew around. Her faithful police bodyguard, DCI Barry Strevens revealed recently to the Mail on Sunday that this was built into her busy daily schedule. “When a new police superintendent arrived in the early eighties, I remember him saying to me: ‘Who’s this Carmen Roller that the PM sees every morning at 8am?’”
Lest you think Mrs Thatcher was overdoing the grooming and hair styling, by contrast, Shirley Williams, first a Labour and then a Lib Dem MP, and now a Baroness, was frequently criticised for her untidy hair. Looking untidy on TV works for only a very few people outside the world of sport or entertainment and celeb culture. For people in politics, business or other professional roles it just doesn’t work. Let’s start this ultra short list with Bob Geldof - and even he wears a suit nowadays.
Never be afraid of a cliché to make your position clear, or in Mrs Thatcher’s case creating your own- “The Lady’s not for turning “ etc.. She was also willing to use examples of her ‘housewife’ knowledge to get across her ideas simply and clearly.
My advice is always simple - prepare what you want to say, know how you want to phrase this, and then make sure you do actually say it in your media interviews. Sounds so easy - but the interviewer will usually get in your way and make this much harder than you think.
Making statements outlining your organisation’s position will answer most of the questions you get and I have been struck in recent days on re-hearing some snatches of Mrs Thatcher’s radio interviews, how she had really mastered the art of making a statement and addressing the question on her own terms.
Everyone has to assert their own agenda for their media interviews and use the opportunity to engage the public on their side, and yes I know, Mrs T did go over the top on this in her late years at the top. She could speak for minutes without drawing breath, leaving no way in for the interviewer, and she really tried to bulldoze her way through some of her interviews. Not to be recommended. I also don’t recommend regular use of one of her later techniques i.e. posing your own questions and then answering them without letting the interviewer get a word in.
Mrs Thatcher did have a tendency in her later interviews to say something like “And I suppose the next thing you’re going to ask me is ..... ....... and my answer to that is...” There are more subtle ways of making sure you get your messages across.
Mrs Thatcher put all of the above into her interviews. Listening and viewing recently the archive material brought out for us by the broadcasters, you can hear the commitment in her voice and see it in her manner. Energy and passion for your messages are always important assets in getting the public to listen to you and to buy in to what you say. And that applies when you are a spokesperson as much as a Prime Minister.
Political interviews are the most confrontational of all news interviews, so, if you don’t sound convincing how can you hope to convince the public? Politicians always have the odds stacked against them. They can be very effective at radio and TV interviews - both Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair are examples of this - but they have the handicap that they can never convince a chunk of the audience who for political reasons are prejudiced against them whatever they say and will always say they are rubbish communicators. What they can do is rally their own supporters with clear messages and win over some of the uncommitted.
Mrs Thatcher won three elections in a row – so she must have done some of that. And we can all learn some very useful lessons from her commitment to handling media interviews professionally - whatever our political views.
16 April 2013
By Roz Morris, Managing Director, TV News London
It’s been a long time coming. But finally London Mayor, Boris Johnson’s method of not preparing thoroughly for media interviews has spectacularly come off the rails. The really amazing thing is that he has lasted so long without crashing and burning.
Boris has always been what broadcasters call a busker. Someone who busks his way through interviews relying on his flair, intelligence and minimum preparation. Because Boris is a very clever man who has charm and a winning personality, this can work for him. But it will never work if he wants to be prime minister of the UK or even (as his sister Rachel has helpfully told us his boyish ambition was to be) ‘World King’.
In his disastrous television interview with the BBC’s Eddie Mair, Boris was caught out in a very simple fashion. Asked about previous problems in journalism and politics where his personal veracity was called into question, he had no answers. He had not done the essential preparation for an interview which means not just looking at what positives you want to put across but also always preparing what you will say to negative and hostile questions.
Everything that Eddie Mair asked Boris Johnson about is on the public record. Boris is an experienced politician and he has done hundreds if not thousands of broadcast interviews. But he still seems to be making the elementary mistake made by inexperienced interviewees on radio and TV who assume that if they know their stuff they can answer anything the interviewer throws at them. Wrong. So wrong.
‘I know my stuff and I’ll see what they ask me’ is a method of interview preparation that , as a media trainer myself, I always advise strongly against.
The best advice is – Know your messages and how you can make them convincing to the public with facts and anecdotes. Remember if anything is on the public record, then you need to prepare so that you are able to answer/deflect/deal with questions about it. Interviewers will look you up online where there is more stuff published than ever before in history. If you don’t prepare for media interviews with this in mind, you can feebly sink into the swamp like Boris.
The secret of success for any media interview is preparing what you want to say and then making sure you say it. At least Boris is consistent. I have heard him stumble in previous interviews over producing some basic boring old facts to back up his messages. Stumbles that should never happen to a politician of his standing.
If Boris wants lessons on how to handle the media using the charming posh boy approach, he can take the apparently arch bumbler Hugh Grant as a role model. As a campaigner for ‘Hacked Off’ Hugh has always delivered clear messages. No bumbling in real life. He writes himself good lines and delivers them clearly and, unlike Boris he pre-empts talk of his public faults. ‘I’m the guy who was caught with a hooker’ he reminds his audience if things start to veer onto personal faults.
Wonder boy Boris needs to learn that being World King takes more than flair and charm. Grown-ups, including Hugh Grant, work at it.
25 March 2013
By Roz Morris, Managing Director, TV News London
Some words and phrases now frequently used in media interviews are so meaningless, sloppy and over-used that I just have to advise against using them. It is true that when you give a media interview, or give a talk or presentation to an audience, you should never be afraid to use a well-chosen cliché which summarises your message and makes it memorable. But it’s definitely not advisable to use clichés throughout and there are some currently popular words and phrases that are now counter-productive. In fact they are so clichéd that they can turn the audience against you.
Here’s a handy guide to the worst offenders.
It was about two years ago that I first noticed ‘Absolutely’. It started creeping into interviews on radio and TV and into my media training sessions when people practice their interviews as for real. At first it was relatively rare. And I advised against it. But now it’s everywhere. And I still advise against it. What does it mean? Absolutely is an adverb. So what is it absolutely that people are so absolute about? And have you noticed that some people get stuck in a groove and start to say ‘Absolutely' in all their answers ? Why not just say: ‘ I agree’ or ‘That’s a very good point’?
Use of the ‘It’s been a long/tough/emotional journey’ was bad enough before the 2012 London Olympics. It sounds so affected and self-absorbed. Like amateur psychology. Why not say: ‘It has been tough getting here’? However, with the coming of wall to wall sports interviews during the Olympics and Paralympics, the ‘journey’ really took off and was on air all day and every day. I don’t think I heard a single athlete who didn’t talk about their ‘journey’. Now I cringe every time I hear someone using this word and if you start using it in a radio or TV interview, be prepared for the audience to stop listening.
Or to put it another way AARGH!! Iconic used to mean something. In fact it used to mean something of religious significance. Now people just use it casually and meaninglessly instead of historic, or important or symbolic or ground-breaking. Sometimes they doubly offend by combining it with ‘absolutely’ as in ‘absolutely iconic’.
4/ OUR HEARTS GO OUT TO
Yes it is important to express sympathy for victims and their families when giving interviews during a crisis which involves death or injury. BUT.... This phrase was always phony. Now it’s a phony phrase that no-one believes that has been relentlessly over-used by police, hospital and company spokespeople. And it’s even worse now than it was when people first started using it because this over-use has made it seem even more false. A much more sincere and dignified way of expressing sympathy is to say: ‘We are very sorry that this accident/incident has happened and our sympathies are with the victims and their families.’ And most importantly, say it as though you mean it.
5/ OUR THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS ARE WITH
See 4/ above but even more so. Can only be used convincingly if you are Prime Minister and referring to victims of terrorism or war. Plus this is also OK if you are a vicar, priest, rabbi, imam etc.. and therefore the audience will believe that you do actually pray. Otherwise this phrase diminishes the speaker’s authority by sounding insincere and not credible.
6/ BACK IN THE DAY
This phrase has recently become increasingly popular with teenagers and young people. I always thought it was creepy old DJ speak as used by Jimmy Savile back in the day. It comes across as sloppy and code for ignorance i.e.’ I have no idea when this happened and I don’t care, but it was in old people’s time‘ (like last year).
7/ SKILL SET
An old favourite of jargon speakers everywhere. In fact is this now one word i.e. ‘skillset’? Anyway what’s wrong with ‘skills’? One tiny crumb of comfort is that it used to be worse. A few years ago I had to stop spokespeople from talking about ‘upskilling’. Luckily this seems to have faded into the obscurity it so richly deserves.
As in: ‘This is a big ask.’ Or, popular in sports interviews: ‘This is a tough ask for any manager/player’. Recently I had to restrain a spokesperson from using the phrase: ‘This is a big policy ask’. It’s not that these phrases are hard to understand, it’s just that this type of phraseology comes across in media interviews as unfeeling business jargon and it distances the speaker from the general listening/viewing audience. Here’s a thought: why not put the ‘t’ back in front of ‘ask’?
9/ AT THE END OF THE DAY
This used to be more irritating before we had the revival of ‘back in the day’. See 6/ above. Again – what does it mean? When is the end of the day? All it does is signal laziness and vagueness on the part of the speaker.
And - Yes - I have saved my personal pet hate for last.
10/ TWO TIMES
What on earth is wrong with twice?
So my advice is: Please don’t use any of these words or phrases in any public statements or media interviews – in 2013 or ever. In fact, avoid them like the norovirus. You don’t want people listening to your interviews or talks to be searching for the sick bag.
23 January 2013
By Roz Morris, Managing Director, TV News London Ltd
“Ho, ho, ho" cried Santa. Today’s the day that I do my first TV interview. I’m sure it will go well. The world is waiting for me." “Er ...Ye –es” said Chief Elf a bit hesitantly. “But have you prepared what you want to say? They say that you should always know what your messages are before you do a TV interview.”
“No, no, no” boomed Santa. “I’m perfectly prepared. I know my stuff and I’ll see what they ask me. Now don’t bother me any more", he added crossly, as Chief Elf tried to hand him a sheet with some facts and figures about toy production, number of reindeer, total of elves employed etc.. “I have to chair a very important meeting about elfin safety and elf holiday pay this morning before I set off for the studio.”
Santa’s meeting took a bit longer than he had expected. He rushed to his sleigh and found the reindeer were not in harness. “Hurry up", he told the elves as they rushed to get the reindeer ready for lift-off. At last everything was ready and Santa swooped off to the TV studio. He landed on the roof after having some trouble finding it. There were so many TV buildings, plus he hadn’t expected the roof to be so crowded with technical equipment and satellite dishes, or for the door to the stairs to be locked.
Maybe I should revise my decision on not getting a Satnav. He thought to himself as he finally rushed down the stairs to the studios, already almost late for his TV slot. "I know I always say that I’ve been finding way round the world for years without any help from satellites, but the world is getting so crowded and I really shouldn’t be late for my first TV interview. Maybe I shouldn’t have had that difficult long meeting about elf holiday pay this morning?"
Arriving at the studio all hot and bothered after all the (avoidable) delays of the morning, he was asked if he wanted a light dusting of make-up before going in . “No, no, no, thank you” he said decisively. "A light dusting of snow is all I’m ever interested in. Ho, ho, ho." There were a few weak smiles but no-one else laughed.
Once he was seated in the studio, Santa noticed two things. Firstly, he was very hot and bothered under the studio lights, and probably red faced and sweating. “Not a good look” he could hear Mrs Claus saying in her familiar correctional tones. Secondly, he had just found out that his jolly red Santa suit was rather tight and the buttons were definitely straining when he sat down. “Oh dear, Mrs Claus will be putting me back on Weightwatchers”, he thought gloomily.
Suddenly the interviewer started shouting – or so it seemed to Santa who had been nervously trying to think of something to say. “What a thrill!" The interviewer shouted. “The first ever interview with Santa himself!. Santa this is really one in the eye for all those people who have been saying you don’t exist, isn’t it?.”
“Er. Ye-es” said Santa. “Who are they?” . He usually had a lot to say, but he had suddenly found that his mind had gone really blank. He did remember that that’s what Chief Elf had told him would happen. Only he hadn’t really listened as he was so busy concentrating on elfin safety and holiday pay.
“Yes” said the interviewer “who are these doubters indeed! Now Santa. What’s your message to the world and especially the children of the world?”
“Ho, ho, ho” said Santa feebly. Seeing he was in trouble, the interviewer tried to be helpful. “All children must be good or they won’t get presents?" He suggested kindly. But to Santa, unprepared, hot and worried, every question, even the friendly ones seemed like a threat.
And they just kept on coming. “How many elves do you have working for you? How do you get round the whole world in a single night? What about homes without chimneys?“ Santa fervently wished he’d looked at that factsheet from Chief Elf. “I just wish all this would all stop soon", he sighed to himself.
“Still at least I only have to do one interview because they’re going to show the same interview all over the world. It’s a pooled interview. That’s what Chief Elf said. Oh dear. Maybe that’s not good as I’m not doing well" he thought, as he heard himself stuttering through another feeble answer.
“Snow, snow, snow. How I love snow.” He said to the reindeer as they all flew back to the nice cold North Pole.
Chief Elf was very diplomatic. “Well it could have been better. You really should have prepared, shouldn’t you." “Yes, yes, yes.” said Santa “I know that now. Just book that media training I’ve been putting off. What’s the name of the company?”
“TV News London” said Chief Elf . " I’ll call them now. Oh and I think we’ll hold off on the tweeting. Even though the Pope is now on Twitter, I just don’t think you’re ready.”
14 December 2012
By Roz Morris, Managing Director, TV News London Ltd
The alarm bells should have rung internally at the BBC after George Entwistle’s first round of TV interviews when he was appointed the Director General of one of the world’s leading broadcasting organisations.
For some reason he nervously toyed with a disposable water cup before talking and this was shown many times on many news programmes. It was far from impressive. Moving your hands around and fiddling about with a cup/file/phone/anything is very distracting to viewers. We stop listening to what the interviewee is saying and just watch the hands. Keep your hands out of shot and you will appear less nervous, steadier, and more in control.
The appearance of amateurism and a decline in viewer confidence was there right from the start. And it became much worse when a clearly under-prepared Entwistle faced the House of Commons Culture Media and Sport Select Committee who ended up laughing at him.
"Baffled Bumbling Clueless - BBC chief humiliated" was the headline the next day on the front page of ‘The Sun’. "Get a grip, Mr Entwistle, MPs tell the DG" said the Daily Mail. This was an own goal which appeared to be exacerbated by a lack of thorough preparation for MP’s questions.
Similarly the BBC’s news management techniques were very poor when, as the Jimmy Savile sexual harassment scandal worsened, they tried offering the D.G. and their chairman, Lord Patten, only for interview on BBC programmes – resulting in protests from ITN and Sky and more bad publicity. To get an interview with the BBC’s Director General, ITN’s Lucy Manning had to doorstep George Entwistle one morning as he walked from his home to the tube station. (See pictures left and above) He also made mistakes here as he did not stop to give his interview. He kept on walking while talking, which always makes the interviewee look as though they are on the run, want to get away and may have something to hide from viewers. It also makes it hard for viewers to concentrate on what the interviewee is saying. It is always best to stop and stand still to give an interview – preferably a short one.
Why is it bad to be doorstepped? Well doorstepping (ambushing) a person in the news can make people look guilty even when they’re not. News management is better. Volunteering (well-prepared) spokespeople for interviews on your own terms on your own ground is important. The BBC expects other people to be able to do it and cope with fierce questioning, but strangely hasn’t applied these same high standards to its own management.
After George Entwistle had to fall on his sword after only 8 weeks in the job, his replacement, Acting Director General, Tim Davie, also made some big elementary mistakes when giving his first interviews to TV news programmes.
He was looking off camera during most of his live Sky News interview, when he should have been looking directly at the camera throughout. This made him look worried and unprofessional. He also waved his hands around and gave an appearance that was more nervy and less authoritative as a result. He did not wear a tie (which makes all middle aged men look smarter and more authoritative). The seriousness of the situation he was addressing surely demanded a tie? And he looked as though he need a shave.
Astonishingly he then broke a cardinal rule of TV news broadcasting by walking out of a live interview with Sky’s Dermot Murnaghan. He said: “Anyway I will go now because I’ve got a lot to do. Um the BBC is taking action. That’s what we’re gonna do. I’ve got a job and I’m gonna get on with it. Thank you Dermot.” He then started walking out of shot. Dermot Murnaghan immediately called after him: “Well are more heads gonna roll Mr Davie?” Tim Davie – walking out of shot- Pause- “Thank you.“ He then continued walking and vanished from view.
This odd behaviour was a shock to TV professionals and to viewers. In the news report using quotes from this interview, the Sky reporter said that Mr Davie “seemed distracted” and remarked on his “presentational issues”.
This is a polite way of putting it. It was code for – he broke a lot of broadcasting rules and he seemed uniformed about the basic rules of TV interviews - and he’s the head of the BBC.
Basically the BBC management has shown that it doesn’t understand the news business and the absolute necessity in reputational terms of handling news interviews professionally. Plenty of people make the kind of mistakes listed above when they come on my media training courses. After some practice interviews, they can see immediately that they don’t look professional and they raise their game accordingly. For the BBC’s bosses to make the beginners’ mistakes listed above by both the former and the acting DG, shows a lack of preparation and professionalism.
Why is the BBC so sure that it can throw its people into shark ponds without apparently giving them even basic shark defence training? It probably all stems from too much looking inward and a general lack of management clarity about the real world.
As someone who has worked as a BBC TV and radio reporter, it gives me no pleasure to find out that what many reporters and news producers have been saying for years about BBC management being rubbish (or stronger words to that effect) turns out to be so spectacularly the case.
Broadcaster Peter Snow told Sky News after George Entwistle’s resignation : “ I came from ITN to the BBC about 30 years ago and I could not believe the labyrinthine complexity of the BBC management. How on earth decisions are ever made by BBC management I’ve no idea!”
The first rule of crisis media management is to have a Crisis Media Plan and to keep it up to date. The second rule is that a crisis doesn’t always come wrapped in a box marked ‘Crisis’. Executives should be able to spot problems and identify which problems have the potential to become crises. Good management including media management can stop many problems from becoming crises.
It is during crises that executives, whether as highly paid as George Entwistle at £450,000 a year, or not, actually earn their money. When there is a potential or an actual crisis you set up a system for dealing with it. You rehearse messages both internal and external. Then you deliver them- convincingly and with authority. None of this will happen without professional preparation and training.
Timing is important too. You take control of the situation and don’t let it drift. This was something the BBC also came a cropper with 4 years ago under Mark Thompson, Entwistle’s immediate predecessor as Director General. (Thompson has just started his big new job as Chief Executive and President of the New York Times newspaper and he must have been so thrilled to have been doorstepped in the Big Apple on his first day by British journalists, including some from the BBC, asking him about the BBC’s current sea of troubles.)
In 2008 when broadcasters Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand left obscene messages on actor Andrew Sachs' answerphone that were broadcast on Brand's BBC Radio 2 show, Thompson didn’t return from holiday immediately and took several days to get a grip on the gathering storm of criticism which then developed into a crisis. The ensuing row, which the BBC did not take control of, started small and grew very large, leading to more than 50,000 complaints, the temporary suspension without pay of Jonathan Ross, and the resignation of the head of Radio 2. Astonishingly, it seems the BBC has still learned nothing of crisis news management since then.
It was one of the BBC’s own pet sharks, John Humphrys of Radio 4’s Today programme, who finally put the nails in George Entwistle’s coffin. On 10 November in a live interview lasting 15 minutes he asked the Director General if anyone had mentioned to him before transmission that BBC2’s Newsnight programme was going to put out a report making “massively serious allegations about a former senior political figure”.
A BBC systems man to the last, Entwistle confirmed that nobody had drawn this particular Newsnight programme, or all the tweets about it 12 hours beforehand to his attention. However he believed that “a serious consideration was given” to the report and the “right referrals were made” i.e. the programme was referred upwards from Newsnight for approval in the correct BBC manner.
The following exchange was the coup de grace.
John Humphrys – "So when did you find out about this film?"
George Entwistle: "I found out about the film the following day."
JH: "The following day. You didn’t see it that night when it was broadcast?"
GE: “No. I was out.”
Later that day George Entwistle resigned.
There’s an old saying: ‘The cobbler’s children are never shod’; meaning that people often don’t apply to themselves the professional standards that they apply to others. The BBC now has GCSE Failed (twice) in Basic News Interview Skills and Crisis News Management. Surely this time it can only get better- can’t it?
19 November 2012
By Roz Morris, Managing Director, TV News London Ltd
One of the messages of media training that I always try to get across to our trainees is that an interview is not an exam. It’s not a pass or fail exercise. You don’t have to answer every question exactly in the terms it’s put. The skills that have enabled you to answer exam questions are not always required when talking on TV and radio. BUT....
But where does that leave David Cameron’s not entirely successful examination on British history and culture on CBS Television’s Late Night show with David Letterman? Letterman versus Cameron – and I put it that way round because Letterman was on his New York home ground here – was an event where both Letterman and Cameron were always going to be looking for headlines.
David Cameron is the first serving UK Prime Minister to go on the show. London Mayor and wannabee PM Boris Johnson and former PM Tony Blair have both sat through the kind of ‘dumb American questions’ that the extremely clever Letterman said he was putting to David Cameron. But neither of them has had the sustained exam-style grilling on British history and government that Cameron has just received.
Boris was able to smile through Letterman asking him about cutting his own hair and is always jolly and Teflon (non stick) as an interviewee. Tony Blair is so good at interviews that nothing sticks to him. He may not always convince his audience to agree with him, but he never loses on points.
In all the hundreds of hours of interviews he gave when he was PM he was only ever really flummoxed once: when BBC TV’s Jeremy Paxman asked him if he and President George W. Bush had prayed together at the White House. Meanwhile David Cameron, as a former PR chief himself, has always done well, even with notoriously hostile interviewers such as Paxman.
But ... does it matter that as Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron didn’t know what the title Magna Carta means – although he did get the date right and the fact that it was signed at Runnymede?
Speaking personally I did History and Latin A levels so I have no absolutely excuse for not knowing all this, and indeed I did and do know that Magna Carta was an early lunch date – 1215 – and that Magna Carta means Great Charter. And that the American constitution and their Supreme Court have referenced Magna Carta as an early influence in establishing liberties for US citizens.
I also know that you can see one of the 4 surviving copies in the British Library in Central London – admission free – paid for by gallant British taxpayers. I’ve seen it myself and you can also see it online at www.bl.uk
I now know, having looked it up, that David Cameron was wrong to say there is a copy in parliament of the original 1215 document. The British Library has two copies and the others are in the archives of Lincoln and Salisbury Cathedrals in England. Should David Cameron have known this? Well yes. At the very least the British Library info. And will he be going to have a look? Probably not in this life. I digress.
I do think he should know what the title means. After all Magna Carta isn’t really a difficult Latin phrase is it? It really does do what it says on the tin- or rather the vellum. Also, as well as a top education at Eton, David Cameron did get a First Class Degree in Politics, Philosophy and Economics from Oxford University. And Magna Carta is an essential part of the development of British politics.
One of the other pieces of advice I always give people before their interviews is: think about the context and the audience for your interview. What will you have to explain that you take for granted? David Cameron did this well. He really pitched for Britain to an American audience and explained elementary UK stuff about England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland very clearly.
On balance I think to us British it does matter that he didn’t know what Magna Carta means. We do expect our prime ministers to be well –informed. Many Americans, who have better education in history and the history of liberty than many of us in Britain, were probably even more surprised at his ignorance. But his main problem was that the media were able to report that he got two things wrong. Ouch. Now the media were really sharpening their teeth.
The other Letterman British question he got wrong was: Who wrote ‘Rule Britannia’? He speculated that it might be Elgar. Something many of us might say! Now we can all get it right at the pub quiz: words by James Thomson, music by Thomas Arne. I don’t think this is as important an issue as Magna Carta, but getting two things wrong did put the British Prime Minister into a slightly embarrassing position.
So what could David Cameron have done differently? Well it is always useful to go over basic facts and never assume you know them unless you’ve checked them before your interview. But shouldn’t his staff have worked out that there might be questions about British – and American history? Imagine how really truly career endingly embarrassing it would be if a British Prime Minister had not known the date when we British lost our American colonies in the American Revolutionary War? (Answer - Declaration of Independence 1776).
However it is important to note that the Prime Minister got across a lot of positive information during his interview about Britain and the Olympics and creating jobs and reducing taxes and he did create some good PR for Britain for an American TV audience of 3 million intelligent people, plus all those who can see it on the web and read about it in the newspapers. Also and very importantly, he kept smiling and not being rattled. On TV this is vital. No audience is ever convinced by a worried politician.
This was not a news interview but a showbiz style interview and therefore, by definition, the interviewer is always in control. Letterman shows this by putting his quests in chairs which are much lower down than his. He’s the man on top and we can see that in almost every shot.
The British TV showbiz talk show host, Jonathan Ross, had already laid a glove on David Cameron when he was Leader of the Opposition by trying to get him to agree that he had sexual fantasies about Mrs Thatcher. Not a topic David Cameron would ever have expected. And he did look embarrassed.
But then should any politician ever bother going on the Jonathan Ross Show? (Actually I don’t think they will again!) Clearly the main agenda of the show is make Jonathan Ross look good, often at the expense of his guests. Similarly with Letterman. The guests know the score before the they appear.
No politician can appear on a showbiz style talk show alongside celebs of widely varying distinction and expect not to be asked some difficult questions, because otherwise he or she would be – horror of horrors- seen as really boring. The talk show host has an obligation to try to make headlines and make the interview different from a mainstream political news interview.
Interestingly the BBC news website has a set of uniformly positive comments from Letterman audience members. All these Americans hadn’t known much about David Cameron before seeing him on the show. They commented that he came across as intelligent, well spoken, impressive, entertaining and likeable. And these were New Yorkers..
So Magna Schmagna. As New Yorkers might put it. It’s never just about content. In America you can’t beat an educated British accent. As one of the audience put it; “He did really good. David Letterman made fun of him a little bit. But I think he pulled through."
All of which neatly illustrates more of my useful advice for TV and radio interviews. This is not a job for perfectionists. It’s not an exam and so long as you don’t screw up completely and you make a good impression on some of the audience, you’re doing well. Even with a home advantage to the interviewer, you can hold them to a draw. And that’s what David Cameron did.
Of course he will have to do even more history homework in future. Perhaps brushing up on his own government’s British Citizenship test? Plus in 3 years time he can look forward to all this being raked up again for the celebrations in 2015 marking the 800th anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta. I bet he can’t wait.
28 September 2012
By Roz Morris, Managing Director, TV News London Ltd
'Working 9 to 5 – what a way to make a livin' sings Dolly Parton in her hit song from the 1980 film now made into a musical that's coming to the UK soon. She sang a snatch of the song on BBC TV 's Breakfast programme, this week speaking live from Nashville, Tennessee, to promote the '9 to 5' musical. It's already had a 5 month run on Broadway, and will be opening in Manchester in October.
Dolly's interview was so revealing, not because she was wearing anything especially showing off her famous cleavage, (unlike Madonna of which more later), but because it really put the spotlight on how much more than a 9 to 5 commitment even a household name superstar has to be prepared to make to stay successful. And how – just as you should when promoting your business or organisation – she really makes an effort and takes the time to take the media seriously.
Her interview was a master class in how to give an effective promotional interview. Plenty of easy charm, smiles, folksy chat and conversation addressing the questions she was asked, but also lots of solid promotion throughout. She's now in her mid sixties and she's been a star for a long time so she has many years of experience of giving TV interviews. Plus she knows how to stage her interviews and get her branding across. There was a poster for the 9 to 5 musical in shot throughout and she had the numbers 9 and 5 woven in among the sequins on her black jacket.
What can humbler mortals learn from Dolly? Well it's pretty simple really. Whenever she gives an interview, she never loses sight of her goal. She works out what she wants to say. She has an agenda for every interview she gives and she sticks to it – totally professional throughout. And entertaining. And boy does she work hard.
Tellingly for those who might think that being a successful multi millionaire singer, songwriter, celebrity and businesswoman is an easy role to maintain, her BBC Breakfast interview demonstrated how truly hard working she is. Her interview was going out live at nine o'clock in the morning in the UK and she was asked by one of the presenters what time it was in Nashville.
"It's three am here" she said smiling brightly from under her immaculate hair and makeup which obviously must have taken time to prepare before the interview. I mean somehow I think we all know she didn't just tumble out of bed and stumble into the studio in Nashville with minutes to go. No sirree not her. She has her own recognisable look which is high maintenance at any time of day or at any age. She took the time to look good.
Dolly is a class act and her 3 am statement was a triumph. It was truly splendid both in terms of wowing the audience and also in showing that she is ready for anything anytime. Asked about Madonna's latest bra dropping incident, she brushed it aside without condemnation or approval. "She does her thing. I wouldn’t want to criticise a fellow performer."
In response to a question about rumours of her performing or filming with Madonna and Lady Gaga, she was tactful and practical.. "I'm not chasing them and I've heard nothing. But if it comes along I wouldn't say no – I'm always looking for new things to do."
She has a very useful technique of sometimes pausing slightly before some of her answers. This helps in dealing with the slight time delay on the live link but also gives her more authority and puts her in control. It gives her time to think and position herself – thinking quickly of course. No-one can ever say that Dolly Parton isn't quick thinking.
So Dolly did all the right things for a successful TV interview. She knew what she wanted to say. She was bandbox smart and she looked bright and alive and glad to be there in a studio even in the very early hours of the morning. How many people who put themselves forward for TV interviews on behalf of their companies and organisations are ready to make that sort of commitment of time and effort?
It's a big 24 hour media world – and media demands don't just apply to celebrities. You won't be live on Chinese TV or make an impact in Australia or India or Brazil or South Africa or the USA or anywhere really if you're only prepared to work 9 to 5.
Then Dolly clinched it. She added casually, completely nailing down her superwoman image, that she is usually up at 3 am. "The camera crew are sleepy, but I'm an early riser. I'm always up at this time."
She finished with singing the first lines of 'Jolene' at the request of the now totally eating out of her hand BBC presenters. She made it all look so easy. If you want do anything half as good in a TV interview, you'll need to work hard too. You may not have to sing a Dolly Parton song, but you do have to plan what you want to say, make sure you say it on air, and look confident and pleased to be there however tired you really are.
Take Dolly Parton seriously and take the media seriously. Not a sentence I ever dreamed I'd write. But it's true.
Good Golly Miss Dolly as Little Richard might well have put it.
Watch the interview: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-18518656
For information on our media training contact us on +44 (0)208 275 8854 or firstname.lastname@example.org
21 June 2012
By Roz Morris, Managing Director, TV News London
Would you take the Tube to a public hanging? Amazingly that’s what some Londoners were able to do in the mid 19th century when the first London Underground line opened in 1863. Public hangings were not abolished until 5 years later in 1868 when the law changed to make all executions take place in prisons instead of in public. In London one of the main sites for public executions, which drew large and enthusiastic crowds, was outside Newgate Prison next to the Old Bailey which is still England’s Central Criminal Court and venue for many murder trials each year.
Taking the Tube to a hanging is a truly startling thought on so many levels. It starkly highlights the frequent overlapping of the old and the new in Victorian England. And it’s not that long ago. Yet, now it’s been reported that the British Government plans to allow television cameras into courts in England and Wales for the first time, you would have thought that public hangings were back on the agenda to judge by some of the critical reactions.
Will our courts become a new form of reality TV? Aren’t we just copying the United States and devaluing British Justice? Will this mean trial by media? Are we turning the courts into a circus entertainment? These are just some of the questions posed by the surprising number of really very grumpy people who appeared on Twitter to castigate the British Government for even thinking of opening up our courts to any form of live public scrutiny.
Can it be that these people have never watched Judge Judy? Or Court TV? And did they avert their gaze like genteel Victorian ladies when footage of the trial of the teenage murderer of the two British men shot in Sarasota, Florida was recently broadcast?
Perhaps they’re worried that the extremely popular Chinese TV programmes interviewing prisoners on death row are somehow lumbering towards us, even though we stopped state executions altogether in Britain in 1965. But of course they haven’t given up executions in the United States where a fascination with executions and executed killers is alive and well. Yeah I know - I couldn’t resist. And nor could Werner Herzog whose latest documentary film ‘ Into the Abyss – a Tale of Death, a Tale of Life’ interviews men on death row in Texas.
There’s no doubt that allowing TV cameras into courts will be a big cultural change here in England. The current situation is that British courts are very closed in culture and have very strict rules about reporting and images. Filming of any kind is currently banned in all courts in England and Wales by Acts of Parliament. (All except the Supreme Court which is a recent, modern invention and has no trials, just judges giving decisions).
At a time when the British Government is also controversially proposing that cases involving sensitive intelligence information should be heard in secret by a judge and "special advocates" in civil cases brought against the government, the growing public perception of the English courts as a separate, secretive world has never been more highlighted.
English law currently bans photography in court and even prohibits court artists from doing their drawings in the courtroom. They have to go out of court and sketch away quickly with their chalks and charcoal capturing from memory images of the accused, any victims, and the general scene in court.
Stills photographers and TV crews can currently only take pictures and film outside courts and that means outdoors. So the British Parliament will have to change the law and pass new legislation to allow TV cameras into courts.
In Scotland there is no similar ban, but all parties must agree before cases can be broadcast. And yes the trial of the ‘dying’ Lockerbie bomber was televised, but that was held in the Netherlands. In the United States 38 out of the 50 states allow cameras into both criminal and civil courts for the whole trial, subject to the agreement of the judge.
Conservative MP Roger Gale, a former television producer who now appears to mistrust all his former colleagues, has told the Daily Express newspaper that he is against cameras in courts. He says televising parliament has resulted in grandstanding by MPs and the same could happen with what he calls "eccentric legal professionals".
But of course grandstanding by MPs and by lawyers has always taken place without TV cameras and with historical examples too numerous to mention. I remember similar objections when the idea of televising the British parliament was first suggested. Britain was behind in bringing that in as well. Many countries were already televising their parliaments when we took the radical step of boring people to death with constant televising of the Lords and Commons.
It was a giant leap which - apart from the weekly shouty highlight of Prime Minister's Questions and a few surprisingly interesting MPs committees and inquiries such as the current Leveson Inquiry into the culture and ethics of the British media – has revealed that some MPs and members of the House of Lords think they are paid by the public to fall asleep on the comfortable leather benches provided in the debating chambers. (Justice Secretary Ken Clarke himself providing notable recent examples).
If court cases were broadcast continuously, similar sleepiness would be revealed. The reality of being in court is that reporters, and those who have served on juries, will know there is a type of mind-numbing boredom peculiar to court cases. I know from my own experience of court reporting that you just can’t say you’ve ever been really bored until you’ve experienced the total, heavyweight, eyelid lowering boredom of a long court case. It really is very difficult to stay awake throughout. But don’t worry -- you won’t have to experience that with the current British Government proposals for TV cameras in court.
Their plan is that televising will only apply to the judge’s summing up, the sentence passed, and the judge’s explanation as to why a punishment has been imposed. Jurors will not be shown at any time. Michael Jackson or Michael Jackson’s doctor or O J Simpson this is not. The Government has indicated that the current strict rules on TV filming and photography will remain.
“I am clear that this (change) must not give offenders opportunities for theatrical public display” Ken Clarke, the Justice Minister, has said. The aim is to improve the transparency of justice and public understanding of courts and it is also backed by Prime Minister David Cameron and by the Director of Public Prosecutions..
So will the courts in England and Wales benefit from allowing TV cameras into their currently unfilmed sacred spaces? I think yes. This is a positive move. Surely it is better in the ever-increasing age of openness and transparency produced by modern technology not to keep our courts closed and old-fashioned in their approach? Justice should be seen to be done and we now see news on TV and You Tube, not just in newspaper reports, a technology dating from the age of the quill pen.
Courts need to catch up with the way the public lives now. They also need to show the public that the peaceful resolving of difficult crimes in court is a better way than the violent revenge culture so often prominently promoted in TV soaps and films.
To build and maintain public confidence in British justice, we need to open up our courts to more scrutiny and fresh air. And also to expand the number of paperless legal cases in Britain as in a recent experiment using digital pads and viewing screens instead of the usual piles and piles of paper files. This was well received by all parties.
So can lawyers and judges cope with the 21st century? They now have the chance to prove they can and that they have at last finally left the 19th century behind whether they travel by Tube or not.
04 April 2012
By Roz Morris, Managing Director, TV News London Ltd
Hugh Grant has emerged as the unexpected winner of the bitter media war between celebs and newspapers unsparingly unearthed by Britain’s Leveson Inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the UK media. As a campaigner in favour of more privacy for celebrities, against the hunting packs of paparazzi which he told the Leveson Inquiry had pursued him and his girlfriends for years (including Ting Lan the mother of his newborn baby), and against journalists hacking into the phones of people in the news, he has done much more than other celebrities who have had their day at the Leveson Inquiry or their day in court.
Unlike the sorry and increasingly demoralised procession of reporters, photographers, private investigators, and newspaper editors, many of whom have had to apologise at the Leveson Inquiry for their own actions or those of their colleagues, his reputation has actually gone up in the public’s estimation. And definitely in mine. So how has he done it?
Well he has followed basic rules of public relations and media training. Here are a few of them.
Be prepared - Mastery of your brief
Never do a media interview without being on top of your facts and your supporting arguments. Bumbling around like Hugh Grant’s characters in Four Weddings, Notting Hill etc.. will in real life not convince the public that you know what you’re talking about or that you are worth listening to. So Hugh Grant has gone down the route of showing that he is completely on top of his subject. And impressively so.
Of course being intelligent and well educated, he hasn’t found this all that hard. The many people who had dismissed him as just an actor speaking someone else’s lines may have been surprised that he can write his own lines. However, with his excellent educational background - he went to a top London grammar school on a scholarship and then to New College, Oxford, where he gained a degree in English - it would be more surprising if he couldn’t write or speak articulately.
In fact Hugh Grant does know what he’s talking about in terms of the media. He has a long history of battles with newspapers and has brought several libel actions over the past 17 years challenging what has been written about him. So he’s become something of an expert on privacy law as he has previously successfully sued and won damages both from the now closed down British newspaper ‘Today’ in 1996 and from Associated Newspapers, the owners of the Daily Mail and the Mail on Sunday in 2007.
He won undisclosed damages over claims by the Mail on Sunday which included that his relationship with his former girlfriend Jemima Khan was destroyed by a flirtation with a film executive – described in the paper as ‘a plummy voiced woman’. This is an allegation he has always denied and which he claimed at the Leveson Inquiry could only have been made after journalists had hacked his phone and listened to his phone messages.
These claims are ‘mendacious smears driven by his hatred of the media’ according to Mail Editor in Chief Paul Dacre who was visibly unhappy at being recalled to the Leveson Inquiry to talk about this issue. He said Grant’s allegations were ‘toxic’ and ‘explosive’ and ‘he knew the damage it would cause’. Definitely a 2- 0 win at the Leveson Stadium for Hugh Grant Academicals versus the mighty big league players at the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday.
Always look smart and professional
Wearing a smart suit and tie – never a problem for Hugh- is always a big asset for a middle-aged man if you want people to think you’re actually intelligent and professional when you appear on camera. And yes the eternally boyish Hugh Grant is now 51. Hard to believe I know, but he is wearing very well.
Anyway - back to his success on TV and Radio - It all used to be so simple for male executives - just wear a suit and tie and you’ll be fine. But, even now, in these times of more relaxed male dress codes at work, all men and especially middle-aged men, should think long and hard before they go tieless on TV. Can you afford to look scruffy? No. You can’t. But you almost certainly will if you don’t wear a tie. If you still doubt this, it’s worth taking a moment to reflect that you probably can’t afford or don’t have available to you any of the professional advice that billionaire businessman Richard Branson gets to achieve his famous ‘smart but casual ‘ look. Believe me for ordinary mortals this is much, much, much more difficult than it looks to get away with. Hugh’s classic look works well for him and it would for a lot of men.
Make it a Campaign and Make Headlines
Hugh Grant didn’t just save it all up for one hit. He got going on the issue of phone hacking in April 2011 when he carried out his own undercover investigation on the issue for the New Statesman magazine by recording a conversation with a former News of the World journalist spilling the beans on the scale of the practice.
Asked in a BBC interview if there was legitimate public interest in his private life, he said: "There is certainly interest but it's back to the old cliché of what is interesting to the public and what is in the public interest. A lot of it is of interest to the public but none of it is in the public interest." In July 2011 he joined the Hacked Off campaign calling for a public inquiry into the activities of the News of the World.
Not only has he made claims directly attacking the media, always a very risky move for a celebrity, and some papers have attacked him for it, he has backed up his assertions and held his own with intelligent arguments on some of the BBC’s toughest and most prestigious news and political programmes. He appeared on BBC TV’s ‘Question Time’ in July 2011 when the closure of the News of the World was announced and on BBC Radio 4 Today Programme’ in February 2012 after his second appearance at the Leveson Inquiry.
He made an impact not just because he gave evidence to the continuously televised Leveson Inquiry twice - at the beginning and the end of the section of the inquiry looking into the media – but because he took the opportunity to attack the Mail on Sunday on both occasions. This made headlines. He has also given evidence to a Parliamentary Select Committee on the media , together with actor Steve Coogan and former Formula One boss, Max Mosley - each of whom has their own criticisms of the media’s coverage of their private lives. More headlines. Plus - he gave talks at the three main British political party conferences in the autumn of 2011 and wowed them all, whether Liberal Democrat, Labour or Conservative. Yet more headlines and TV reports.
He has seized the opportunity presented by the British press being found out in the phone hacking scandal (with more to come on press payments to police) to run his own campaign in favour of more privacy for celebrities, against the paparazzi, and against journalists hacking into the phones of celebrities. He has gathered huge criticism from the papers he has attacked – such as the Daily Mail and the Mail on Sunday – for his allegations that their journalists have hacked into messages on his private phone. But he has also gathered some grudgingly admiring headlines from the BBC and The Guardian with articles asking whether being a right to privacy campaigner is his best role yet or highlighting his strengths in playing his role as ‘ a loveable toff’ for real.
Show passion and/or enthusiasm
If you give a radio or TV interview you do need to sound interested and either enthusiastic, committed or even passionate about your topic. The audience will not be interested if you are boring or robotic or processed. Because of his long history of battles with the media, Hugh Grant really does care about the subject of media intrusion. He knows what he’s talking about – see above - and he’s not afraid to put some edge into his interviews and reveal his motives.
He said in an interview with the influential BBC Radio 4 Today Programme that the Daily Mail was not used to being questioned. "I can see why they're cross” he said “ because for once someone has had the courage to question their probity and their honesty. "Generally speaking, if anyone does that with a paper like the Daily Mail, however much they may go on about freedom of speech, no one is allowed the freedom of speech to question the Daily Mail. If you do, you will be trashed. And that's what happened again and again and again to me and anyone else who has dared to question the Daily Mail."
Make it Real – Give Real Life Examples – One
Hugh Grant’s statement to the Leveson inquiry about harassment by journalists and photographers was lengthy and vivid, providing plenty of detailed information about how the mother of his newborn daughter and her mother had been harassed and physically threatened by the paparazzi and pressured by journalists. As with some of the statements by other celebrities appearing at the inquiry, It provides a clear snapshot view of the unpleasant side of a world that the rest of us do not live in.
Make it Real – Give Real Life Examples – Two
Appropriately for someone whose two dozen films have so far grossed a total of $2.4 billion at the box office, Hugh Grant added a solid note of financial realism at the joint parliamentary committee on phone hacking. He asserted that just because he was happy to do publicity interviews for his films, that didn't give the press rights over his private life. "If I sell someone milk for 50p, you wouldn't expect anybody to come and say, 'You slut, now you've got to give me milk for free, forever’." He added that the British press claimed it had "made" him. But it hadn't made Four Weddings and a Funeral a success in Latin America, or Japan or the US. "Their hubris is incredible!"
Make it Real – Give Real Life Examples – Three
"Publicity is not what you make your living off" he told the Liberal Democrat annual conference in September 2011 where an adoring crowd took photos on their phones and excitedly hung on his words of wisdom as he played to their preconceptions and apologised self-deprecatingly for being ’a political virgin’.
Make your Agenda Clear
In his interview with BBC Radio Today Programme after his second appearance at the Leveson Inquiry he said he would like the Inquiry to result in a new regulatory body, in place of the Press Complaints Commission, with "teeth to sanction newspapers that go wrong". He denied he was actively giving up information about personal matters while promoting his films. "When you sit and do an interview are you asked about acting technique or are you asked 'how's your love life, what's it like with Liz Hurley? You then have a choice. You can be Mr Pompous and say 'I really don't talk about my private life' or you can try and be a good sport and give a jokey answer."
Hugh Grant hasn’t made the mistake of trying to flannel or fudge any embarrassing truths about this private life. Before he could be asked about it, he told BBC Radio Four Today programme that he had no reputation to lose. “I’m the guy who was caught with a hooker after all.” He also told the Joint Parliamentary Committee of the Lords and Commons that he didn't complain about coverage of his encounter with prostitute Divine Brown in Los Angeles in 1995 . "That was on the public record, I've no argument with that. It's not my beef." He knows it’s a good idea to volunteer a reference to this incident himself in interviews and not wait for the interviewer to raise it.
Anticipating difficult questions and diminishing their effect by pre-empting them is one of the most valuable things you can do when preparing and then delivering a media interview. If you set the agenda and the context for your difficult issues, you can put things in a much better light than if you are merely responding to an interviewer’s attack.
Media Lessons from Hugh Grant - Really? Who would have thought it? But needed to be said I feel.
29 February 2012
By Roz Morris, Managing Director, TV News London Ltd
“Ho, ho, ho “cried Santa. He was in his traditional jolly mood as he heaved his bulk out of bed and into his Santa dressing gown and furry red Santa slippers thoughtfully left out for him by Chief Junior Elf. “Another jolly day “ he boomed as he thought about where to park his sleigh when he swooped down onto the TV studios for his first ever television interview later that morning.
“You’re booming very well this morning Santa” said Senior Elf, deftly removing some elf-made wooden toys thoughtlessly left behind on the wooden floor by the very junior elves who forgot that Santa could easily trip over them due to not being able to see his feet beneath his big stomach. “I saw that“ said Santa. “You must have a word with Elfin Safety. She’ll put those pesky little very junior elves in order.”
“Now what about your TV interviews - aren’t you going to prepare some things to say? “ asked Senior Elf. “ You know they always say you don’t know how blank your mind can go until you’re on live TV? “ he added in a worried tone.
“No, no , no said Santa rather crossly, “ I don’t need to prepare. I’ll just see what they ask me. I‘ve been doing this job for years. I know my stuff.”
“Yes but talking on the TV is different from normal talking, you need to prepare for the questions“ said Senior Elf, who took modern life seriously, unlike Santa, whose only concession to the 21st century so far had been to fit a seat heater in his sleigh. “No Satnav needed for Santa“ he would tell anyone who would listen. “I know my way round the world without the help of space satellites. I was here long before they were. In fact NASA and NORAD track me. I don’t need their help. ”
“ And what do you mean interviews?” Santa added tetchily . “ I thought I was doing just one.”
“Well you have to cover the world’s TV networks so you’ll be doing one interview face to face and one down the line. They’ll all be pooled, “ said Senior Elf precisely, very proud of knowing the TV jargon. “Down the line means talking to the camera , not to an interviewer. It’s also called a remote interview. ” he added proudly.
“Pooled – what pool? “ asked Santa even more crossly, and feeling his jolly TV interview mood fading fast.
“Doing a pooled interview means you only have to do two interviews and all the broadcasters get one or the other. Otherwise you’d have to do hundreds of interviews. You’d be in the studio till next Christmas” Senior Elf added with a bright, little, know-it-all elf smile that Santa wanted very much to wipe right off his face – right now.
“Anyway don’t forget I’ve got a very important meeting this morning about appearing in next year’s X Factor as a special guest”, Santa beamed, recovering some of his jollity at the prospect of another starring role. “And I’m not doing it unless they get Beyonce to dance with me. I know you think I’m out of touch, but I do know that Simon Cowell is almost as powerful as I am, so, after my first TV appearance today, the X Factor is the place for me next year.”
Santa’s meeting with Syco dragged on. At last it was finished. “Go, go ,go “ cried Santa to the reindeer. He was late for his arrival at the TV studios. Having parked with some difficulty on the roof, which he had not expected to be crowded with antennae, satellite dishes and air conditioning and heating machinery, he rushed down to the studio. It was in the basement, which he also hadn’t realised, and when he got there he was sweating and hot and bothered and he couldn’t remember anything he wanted to say.
“Would you like some make-up?” asked a slim woman with very tidy hair and a selection of small brushes in her hand. “Oh no, no, no “ said Santa briskly. “Just take me to the studio please.” It was very hot in the studio because there were lots of lights, so Santa didn’t cool down at all. In fact he felt even more hot and bothered and he knew he was red-faced and sweating. Also, when he sat down, he noticed, too late to change before the interview started, that the buttons on his Santa jacket were straining to keep in their buttonholes.
“I do believe I’ve put on a little weight since this suit was made just a few years ago” he thought to himself as the interviewer, who was thin and very smartly dressed in a suit and tie and didn’t look hot at all, began by introducing him as ‘Someone who really needs no introduction’ then getting very excited and shouting at him “I can’t believe it’s Santa. Your first ever TV interview, what’s your message to the children of the world? ”
“Eh, well, “Santa was a bit stumped. He hadn’t really expected that sort of question. “Well” he said quietly and without any of his usual booming tone, “ It’s very hot here. I’m not used to heat – I’m more of a cold weather chap myself.“ “Yes but what’s your message?” said the interviewer, kindly giving him another go at making a good impression, but to Santa, unprepared as he was, the interviewer appeared to be a threatening inquisitor, definitely out to get him. “Ho , ho , ho? ” said Santa feebly. He was surprised to find he actually felt very nervous. This wasn’t going well.
“All children should be good or they won’t get presents? “ , the interviewer suggested helpfully. “Oh ,yes definitely, that’s how the system works “ said Santa. Uncharacteristically, he didn’t seem able to speak more than one short sentence at a time. And he could feel his mind was going blank – very blank. “I just want to survive this and go home to the nice cold North Pole”, he thought.
“And how many elves do you have working for you? “ asked the interviewer trying to put Santa at ease by asking him a simple factual question. “Eh, I’m not sure”, Santa began another feeble answer. “There are lots and lots of elves”. If only he’d looked at the factsheet that Senior Elf had thrust in front of him before he left for the studio. Santa stuttered on. The interview finally ended after what seemed to Santa like a very long time and he got up to go.
“Santa, Santa, That was wonderful, super, just terrific” said a thin bossy looking woman with frizzy hair and a clipboard who was speaking very fast. “I’m the producer for your remote interview and we’re going to put you in another studio." Before he knew what was happening Santa had been fitted with a radio microphone, with a pack squeezed into the very tight waistband of his red Santa trousers and an earpiece had been put in his left ear, and he was staring at a camera. “You’ll hear the interviewer through your earpiece in about a minute” the producer told him. She seemed to Santa to be very speeded up and he wasn’t really taking in much of what she said. “Oh and don’t look at anything else but the camera for the whole interview” she added over her shoulder as she left Santa alone in what he now realised was a padded sound-proofed cell.
Santa got a bit bored as he waited and waited for what was definitely much more than a minute. Finally just as he was wondering whether to leave, he heard a whooshing noise in his ear and several people shouting about something and then a voice said very fast “Can you hear me Santa – can you hear me? “ “Yes “ said Santa looking around for someone to talk to . “Can you look at the camera? “ said the voice in an urgent tone. “Yes” , said Santa again. “Look at the camera now” said the voice bossily, adding “You’ll hear the interviewer in ten seconds. “
Suddenly Santa wasn’t sure what to do next. Why should he talk to the camera when he could now see the interviewer on a TV screen on a table to the left of the camera? He decided to talk to the monitor. He felt this second interview went better than the first as he did manage to get two sentences out in a couple of his answers.
“Snow, snow, snow. How I love it “ Santa told his reindeer as they made their way back through an Arctic blizzard to the lovely frozen North.
“How did it go?” asked Santa. “So so “ said Senior Elf diplomatically. “By the way, Simon Cowell’s people called. They think you’re not right for the X Factor. They think you should try Blue Peter. That’s BBC TV's Blue Peter,” he added helpfully, “ the children’s programme where they make things and say : ’And here’s one I prepared earlier’. That’s good advice for TV interviews too.”
“Doh, doh, doh” said Santa briefly turning to Homer Simpson for aid in expressing himself. “ Where’s that email you mentioned from the media training people?” “TV News London? “ said Senior Elf . “I’ll book you a session right now.”
14 December 2011