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Graham Norton had better get it right

January 12, 2009



Arsey git, originally uploaded by Thoroughly Good.

I do have a tendency to shoot my mouth off. Catch me at a bad moment and what ever the issue is which simmers below the surface can, if the appropriate buttons are pushed, bubble up into something which with hindsight might possibly regarded as being a bad move. This is illustrated in no finer form than in a letter I wrote and then sent to the BBC staff newspaper Ariel last week.

I should know better. Over the past couple of years there have been plenty of occasions when I’ve chosen to write a letter to the rag instead of getting on my work like most other staff. Post-Eurovision in 2005 I was scathing in my assessment of the UK’s performance. With Lordi’s seemingly ridiculous win riling me on my way into work a few days after contest, I wrote to Ariel to propose the plan of putting a couple of newly designed Cybermen on stage to sing our song in 2006. Even though I hadn’t actually emailed Russell T Davies to seek approval (he’s very busy anyway, he wasn’t going to have time to answer my email), I was certain he would be behind the idea.

It was the question of who would play the eleventh Doctor which courted my attention. News that nubile Matt Smith would take up the mantle caused my heckles to rise. I turned to my desktop, fired up word and got to work. Before I knew what I was doing, I was referring to my bitterness over the Eurovision commentator’s role.

Some years ago I was relatively miserable in my work as an IT support engineer. I set on the idea of researching my questionable fascination with the Eurovision and during a series of lunchtime research trips to the nearby Barbican library successfully completed reading Terry Wogan’s then only autobiography “Is it Me?”

I wasn’t a huge fan of The Wogan at the time although acknowledged to myself privately that if it wasn’t for The Wogan, I probably wouldn’t be researching the Eurovision at all.

Page after page revealed little which struck any chord until the question of how long he reckoned he would continue to commentate on the Eurovision Song Contest. One sentence rang out (although I confess I haven’t referred back to it for this particular evidence). It was something along the lines of: “I’ll continue commentating the Eurovision until some young upstart replaces me.”

People who know me well will happily tell you that I am someone who does rather think the world revolves around me. Every line manager I’ve had since 1998 has said as much, some more rudely than others. I’m 36 now. I suspect this character trait is unlikely to change.

It was possibly because of this and my tendency to let my imagination run away with me, an orchestra played somewhere in the background at the library and in a split second I thought anything was possible.

A couple or so years later and I’m sat at my desk in a new job somewhere reasonably close to the BBC. I had access to the buildings, telephone extension numbers and everyone’s email address. In the inevitable bored moments one always suffers from when new to a job, I started firing off one or two emails. No time like the present to try and make a dream a reality.

That very afternoon I found myself in the office of an executive producer in Light Entertainment. “Shall we go for a drink in the bar? You can leave your bag there,” he said gesturing at his white sofa by the window.

Minutes later I was staring at the man in the face. In the space of only a few days at the BBC I found myself sitting in front of a man who up until now had been one of those mysterious names who rolled past at the end of favourite television programmes. He was a man who had secured his place in history by virtue of the programmes he had worked on. I’d always figured that production people were every bit as important as the talent they supported and told him so. He was part of my own viewing history. I didn’t know him but it felt as though I did just because I saw his name fly past on the credits. I told him so. As ever, I gushed.

I told the man everything about how I started on researching a book about Eurovision, how I’d ended up going to Latvia to see the 2003 contest when I hadn’t anticipated going in the first place. I recalled seeing him and his team in one of the bars in Latvia but didn’t dare going over to say hello. “Why ever not?” he asked. “What was I going to say exactly?” I replied, “ ‘Hello, I’m Jon Jacob. I’m a fan.’ ” Such an approach never bodes well in Eurovision-land.

At the time I can’t say I was necessarily listening to my internal dialogue especially closely. If I had, I may have heard the gentle reminders whispering around my head. You need a profile; you need an audience; people need to know who you are; you have no experience; five minutes in a studio on live radio with Sandi Toksvig doesn’t constitute experience; being shameless and cheeky doesn’t constitute ability; move away from the bar, leave this man alone.

In fact, if I had listened to the increasing volume of my internal dialogue I may have hesitated before answering the producer’s question. “Just what is the big plan then, now that you’ve arrived at the BBC? What is it you really want to do exactly?”

Television Centre bar fell silent. Heads turned. The volume on the TV screens suddenly dropped. People craned their necks.

“I wouldn’t mind Terry Wogan’s job.”

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One Comment
  1. Well, at least it hasn’t hurt your career prospects. Unless your entire career has been a carefully orchestrated plan to *get* Terry Wogan’s job…

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