Sorry if this doesn't read as coherently as usual. I've switched to a different browser and it doesn't mix with my blog format too amiably. The screen is jittering about in a way that feels like bobbing for apples - except that instead of fruits, there are bits of text bobbing madly around all over the place and sliding away when you try to get hold of them.

Anyway, I went on a radio skills course at Whistledown Productions I've often heard their name at the end of excellent programmes on Radio 4 and so when I got the offer of a course it seemed too good a chance to miss.


As a freelance who is able to set my own hours, I found it most interesting to be working at top speed. In our tightly structured course, were six one-hour slots.

By the end of the day we needed to have done six tasks which were probably easy enough ... but oh ho, it was a very different story when they had to be done at top speed.

Getting Up Close to SADiE

We were in groups of three people. Our group began by learning to use the SADiE editing system to assemble the components of a programme on three channels. All the sections had already been prepared, and we had to organise the material, label it, add the sound effects and music in appropriate places and splice the sections together. The clue to the problem is that we had to learn how to use the editing software in that time, too. I expect it would have been easier for a group of 10 year olds than a group of ageing writers like us.

Fifteen Minutes at the Market

Next, we had to put together a short - 4 minute - piece for a radio magazine programme about the local market. Off to the market hall, listening to a briefing and instructions, then taking just fifteen minues to find people to interview, interviewing them, doing an intro and conclusion and getting some sound effects.

I did this all right, thanks to a man who could talk for England about olives. He was great but nonetheless I didn't create the most fascinating piece in the world out of it (unless you're obsessed with antipasti) but I thought I'd done well to do it at all. So imagine how struck with admiration I was for one of our group members who actually managed to give her piece a theme - the multi national character of the market - in that fifteen minutes. Her piece sounded like a proper bit of radio.

Never Say You Don't Know

Then the experience of being interviewed. We had one friendly and one hostile interviewer - actually it was the same man, David Prest, who has won a couple of Sony Gold Awards and is MD of Whistledown.

Before we went into the studio, we made a list of the key points we wanted to make during the interview - to focus the mind, really, I suppose - and considered some useful advice about how to handle potential problems. The sort of thing that will ring a bell with all those who fume and rage when listening to politicians being interviewed on the radio.

Never say you don't know something, don't get involved in speculation: you must, if some horrendous question is sprung on you, learn to evade the question. Yes, you know the kind of stuff. It turns out that time is so tight on radio that this is probably the only way, since it really is impossible to start developing complicated arguments. Still annoying to listen to, though.

Riots in Budapest
One of our group, Adrian, was interviewed about Budapest, on which he had just written a guidebook. Hostile David gradually introduced more and more spurious terror reports that were supposedly coming in about Budapest. Adrian handled it very well: "I can't comment because I don't know the facts" he said in various ways, during seven attempts to break him down. Finally David yelled "The Foreign Office have said nobody should travel to Budapest unless it is strictly necessary!" To which Adrian smilingly replied that he would always urge anyone to follow safety advice but he still couldn't comment. That interview got a round of applause when it was played back.

Carroll and Michael Jackson

I opted to be interviewed about Carroll. The chat with Friendly David went well and I realised how important it is to have an good interviewer who is in control. Hostile David insisted on dwelling on the death of Michael Jackson and inviting me to make parallels between Carroll and Jackson.

I hadn't been able to prepare for it- you never can prepare for people firing deliberately difficult questions at you. It helps of course that I don't see Carroll as a sort of Victorian predecessor of Michael Jackson, and so I ended up feeling that I had dealt with it well.

Pitching Radio Programme Ideas

Realising I'd been okay on the hostile interview quite set me up for the tasks of the afternoon - a stint doing live interviewing, a programme pitching session and the task of assembling our efforts in the market hall into a coherent item. Of these, the most interesting was the pitching. We devised programme ideas in our groups, and hearing these ideas taken apart in the subsequent discussion made it very clear what programme makers are looking for - something you can't somehow pick up from the BBC guidelines.

And More...

Part 2 follows in the next post, which I've put to appear AFTER this one, with the magic of technology, even though it was written a couple of days later..