Last week Jeremy Vine delighted an audience of students and grannies in UEA’s Lecture Theatre One.
Vine recently released a book, It’s All News To Me, which takes the form of part-diary, part-autobiography as it looks back on the broadcaster’s 25 years at the BBC.
Jeremy began the evening by explaining that to survive in the BBC one must be willing to endure constant humiliation. Reading from his book he described how his first encounter with broadcasting was walking into the BBC to find an employee screaming that he “had worked here for 40 years!” to the receptionist who simply replied “I am sorry, but those are the rules. No pass, no entry”.
After his reading, Jeremy turned the corner onto memory lane, and took the audience with him to the venue of his first gig as a teenager, into the studio of his radio debut, past the type writers in his first journalistic job, through Westminster, to the poverty, cross-fire and fond farewells he encountered in Africa, and to his Today studio in the BBC.
Despite the hilarity of Vine’s stories and tongue-in-cheek attitude, one may have been forgiven for getting a little emotional when Vine began to talk of his time as the BBC’s African correspondent. He told how he was struck with the notion that the “most important words come from the least important people”, when his African housekeeper, Paulina, asked him to write her a speech for her son’s funeral.
At first confident that, as a writer, he could do such an important speech justice, he was struck with his own arrogance when he realised that no words which he wrote could be as loaded, powerful or beautiful as those which Paulina came up with herself: “I will miss my son because he made me a mother. No one will call me mother again”.
The ideology of the everyman has become integral to his work for Radio 2 and Vine described how the BBC relies on the stories, the claims, and the footage of the average citizen. “The people in the background”, he says, “have all the power, and they speak the most important words”.It is not only the public that have the power, Vine explains, but the staff behind the scenes in the studio as well. Vine tells a comical story about Ann Robinson. Bossiness, he says, gets you nowhere in broadcasting.
After being rude to the staff in the studio, she, embarrassingly, found herself live on TV without a working mic, which she acknowledged with the words “am I meant to plug this in myself?”. “It works better if you plug it in the socket” was the cool reply.