Thursday, February 03, 2005

On the BBC

Last Saturday I took the train and tube to Oxford Circus and walked from there to Broadcasting House. It took me half an hour door to door, one of the many benefits of living in central London.

Sometimes you will see a little group of autograph hunters waiting outside Broadcasting House to get the autographs of famous people. I walked past them unnoticed.

Inside you tell the security people that you're there to do a show. They give you a badge and someone comes to get you. I was taken down to the basement and met Sandi Toksvig (the presenter) and Kevin Dawson (the producer). If you've ever seen the TV series Frasier, then Sandi is like Frasier and Kevin is like Ros. He tells Sandi what do do and who to address questions to and how much time she's got left. He speaks to her through a little earpiece.

I was a bit disappointed because Sandi had just got back from South Africa and was very excited and got someone on at the last minute to talk about that. This meant that Tim Severin, a Viking expert, and I, the Roman expert, only had half the time to talk about Ancient Travel.

Also, Tim was speaking from a studio in Ireland and they kept losing him. Poor Sandi was trying to interview while in her ear Kevin was saying stuff like: 'We've got Tim in the studio but the line isn't working... OK, he's on the phone...No, wait! He isn't ... he's going to another studio... he's not there yet... OK, NOW he's there! You can ask him question 6...' Poor Sandi was frantically but quietly flipping through her pages trying to find question 6 while making intelligent replies about South Africa.

For those of us being interviewed it is quite nerve-wracking because we are going out LIVE to thousands of people and if you say something stupid then everybody hears it and you can't take it back. I have a special trick which I use against nerves. I hold some saliva in the front of my mouth. It works because when you are afraid your mouth goes dry so if you have a wet mouth your body thinks you are relaxed. Also, it makes me concentrate on not spitting on Sandi Toksvig which keeps my mind off being nervous.

It went well and I only make one mistake. I said 'Petronicus' instead of 'Petronius'. Still I don't think he'll sue. He's been dead 2000 years. After the broadcast Sandi said how hard it had been and did she have any new grey hairs? We said we never guessed how chaotic things were in her earpiece. She took the lift with me up to the lobby and said, 'I'm going to take the back entrance; there are some autograph-hunters out there.'

I said goodbye to her and went out the front. A few of the autograph-hunters gave me a keen look but then they turned away, bored. I passed by unmolested.

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