July 4th is embedded in my memory as the date that nearly got me my first job in television.
I had moved to London from Wales in the mid-Eighties and applied for a researcher’s job on The Six O’Clock Show, a light-hearted, evening entertainment show for London and broadcast by London Weekend Television.
I was unemployed and receiving state benefits that amounted to £17 a week, which was as little then as it is now. I kept my belly full by gate-crashing events and smuggling chicken drumsticks from the buffet into my empty handbag.
My knowledge of television was limited; my knowledge of what constituted research even less. Still, I made it to the final rounds, when applicants were required to put together ideas for a show that would be broadcast on July 4th. Luckily, a friend pointed out that it was American Independence Day (until that point, in my ignorance, I had gathered a rather feeble offering about British summers), and off I went.
To my surprise, I made it to the final six and was invited for an interview at LWT’s offices and studios on the South Bank. As I gazed at the huge tower overlooking the River Thames, I fantasised about the great future on which I was about to embark in the glamorous world of television.
Alas, it was all downhill from there. The frivolity of The Six O’Clock Show had not been much of an indication that it came under the banner of Current Affairs, and that what they were looking for was a researcher who could move on to Panorama, the high brow, mega-serious programme that revelled in exposing the foibles of institutions and individuals.
As someone who does not like confrontation unless pushed unjustly, the idea of door-stepping a CEO to find out where he was stashing his employees’ pension funds and the like, was never going to be my thing. At the interview, however, I had no idea that I was a bad fit and so answered every question with the flippant, throwaway humour I had seen in the show.
The lowest point was a question about my views on The Peacock Report, the subject matter of which was the financing of the BBC. Apparently. Unfortunately, I had never heard of it and came out with: “There’s not enough sex in it.”
“Did you mean that in a pejorative sense?” asked a stony-faced producer. I had even less idea what pejorative meant than I had knowledge of the contents of the Peacock Report, but in a gallant attempt to save face, I expanded upon the sexual aspects I felt could benefit its findings.
The only other thing I recall was saying that I was looking to be a TV presenter and writer, but was met with the response: “Television is not the place for creativity and talent.”
I didn’t get the job, but had a very nice letter saying that they felt Current Affairs was perhaps not my forte, but they thought that the Arts department could make use of my “undoubted talent and ability”. I didn’t get a job there, either, but I battled onwards and upwards, a chicken drumstick kleptomaniac for some years after, until I got my big break as TV Critic on the London Evening Standard.
So although, today, I am not a US citizen, I celebrate not only anyone’s ability to gain independence from the English (I wish Wales could do the same), but the date that set me on the writing and broadcasting path I finally pursued.
My first television launch as a critic, by the way, was for a programme about Aids, produced by Mr “Pejorative”. I gave it a stinker. I can be mean like that.
Subsequently, we started dating. Well, I say dating. We had one Indian meal, over which he announced that he was a manic depressive who spent six months at a time in a darkened room, and he was about to enter that phase now. I had barely taken a bite out of my first poppadom.
The development of that relationship is another piece altogether, but every July 4th I remember the course of events my little programme plan put into motion.
So, Happy Independence Day, America! In the tiniest of ways, I feel a part of your history, and it gives me immense joy that I am able to spend so much time in your country, where I have become something of an expert on the subject of your Current Affairs.
Basically, there’s not enough sex here.