Extracts from speech to Royal Television Society dinner last night – as requested by a few of you
Posted on 13 September 2013 | 12:09pm
RTS cambridge sept 12 2013
Hope you’re enjoying the conference. Hope you’re enjoying the latest round in the longest running soap opera of our lifetime, BBC leadership … Is it really ten years since Greg Dyke left to spend more time with his anger? No, truth be told we have both moved on. Saw him at David Frost’s funeral yesterday, we smiled nicely.
As for the current BBC leadership, maybe Tim Davie who is here can take back to them my favourite political quote of all time – Harry Truman – amazing what men can achieve provided nobody cares who gets the credit. Modern version – amazing how you can get through a crisis provided nobody cares who gets the blame.
Interesting week. The select committee. Will say more on David Frost later. But I feel it may be the most dramatic moment may be yet to come. Richard Desmond on the drums.
I start with a warning. Things happen when Dessie plays the drums. September 8, 2001, his birthday party. Three things I recall. One, his drum playing, which for an old’un wasn’t bad. Two, he had hired Jim Davidson as the pre drums entertainment and I have never till then understood the concept of corpsing on stage. But he did it, digging deeper and deeper until Tony Blackburn of all people leapt on stage, and rescued him by playing very loud music and ushering him off.
But third it was memorable for this …
P104, volume 4, my diaries, still available all good book shops along with my new novel out today which, may I say, has a heroic TV reporter – loosely based on Matt Frei as he is the only reporter in my eyeline – as one of the smaller characters.
‘Out with Fiona to Richard Desmond’s party at the Roundhouse. All a bit over the top, everyone photographed with OK magazine backdrops. I was chatting to Ulrika Jonsson .. Sven Goran erikkson walked in. I asked her if she had met Britain’s other famous Swede. She said no, so I got him over and introduced them. – oh yes, Cupid Campbell – He was pretty robotic as the four of us talked in English but then they got going in real hurdy-gurdy and he was altogether more animated…
And I think we know how animated they got later. Ask Nancy. So stand by for Desmond happenings later tonight when he gets his sticks out.
Been told you have had quite a heavy time, and my job is to lighten you up a bit, but be relevant to television issues and themes.
So what I did was dig out a file of TV offers I have had since I left Downing Street a little bit after Greg left the BBC.The file is called ‘Daft TV offers – did they really think I would?’
It runs to hundreds and hundreds of pages. Annual offer to go to the jungle, annual Big Brother offer. Combined fees offered so far well into seven figures. Rule 1 … if there is a choice between cash and credibility, go for credibility every time.
I don’t see myself as a celebrity, but I have had all the obvious ones – Strictly Come Dancing, dancing on ice, Masterchef, Cash In the Attic, Wipeout, Mastermind, Mr and Mrs.
Could have been a cabbie, a nurse, a boxer, a wrestler, an orchestra conductor, a safari guide. I could have done DIY with James May, started my own political party, had my own ‘king of spin’ quiz show where I persuade people that things they know to be true – like their name or where they were born – are not.
I do admire the persistence of these poor talent scouts, and I love the desperation and the bad grammar in their letters. Do not mock, these people work for you…
‘Dear Alastair … As a much loved star who is known to enjoy bird watching we wanted to invite you, for 20000 pounds, to be a team captain for the entire series of six programmes of Celebrity Bird watching.’ 1, I am not a star. 2, loved by whom? And 3, I have never been bird watching in my life.
Here is how Marooned tried to pitch to me…
‘Each week, a celebrity and one of their closest friends or family are abandoned in one of the world’s harshest natural environments (think Himilayas, Alaska, sahara the African Savannah, to name but a few……). All they have is basic rations, survival training and each other. They’ll have to dig deep to survive before they are returned to civilisation. Do they have what it takes and will their relationship survive?
This promises to be the adventure of a lifetime – but an adventure with a twist. Because The celebrity and their companion may be marooned together but they are in competition –They may be on the same beach, but it won’t be a party…
For two days they will be taught essential survival skills then they will be totally abandoned and left to their fate. Will they survive being marooned?
Alastair, she chirps on, How would you feel about being marooned with Rory or Calum or Grace? Er, that’s my children … And if not them, do you have any better ideas?
What like Clare Short?
UNDERDOGS We are currently in pre-production with “Underdogs” – a new series for BBC TWO.
We are planning to rescue eight unloved, orphaned dogs from a well known dog’s home, and give them a chance of success and stardom. DOGS? STARDOM?
Each dog will be paired up with a celebrity, who won’t necessarily have a love or experience of dogs, but who are willing to take on the challenge of training a dog in the art of obedience and agility. If they have a dog already then great, they will be able to teach a new four legged friend new tricks! The twosome will become a threesome as they will be joined by a professional dog trainer, who will knock both of them in to shape!
Just wondered if you have had a chance to check out our proposal about diving with sharks in South Africa?
Celebrity Shark Bait
Granada Factual London
Here is one called Devil’s Dinner Party .. we think this is tailor made for you as the master manipulator. Put a group of guests together and try to establish …
Who around the table is most likely to have been bullied at school?/Who around the table takes themselves most seriously? Who hates each other? Who fancies someone else’s wife? Do you?
If you need to get a hold of me my number is:
But here is the Gold Award winner.
We believe there is still a lot of racism in America… interesting … we would like Alastair Campbell to front a film exposing the racism… good, happy to … But there is a twist … we would like to make him black. This will require him to undergo a medical
procedure to darken the skin. It is the same procedure used to treat vitiligo – the skin condition where skin loses pigment and turns white. The treatment repigments temporarily. We would, of course, be working closely with a dermatologist at all times to ensure the safety of the procedure, and can assure Alastair his welfare will be paramount.
So I met an agent out of curiosity… I said I have two questions …
will all of me go black? And can I go back to being white at any time if I am not happy being black?
We think so….she said.
Of course they keep at you because eventually you might fall. Who would ever have thought Martina Navratilova would say yes. I have fallen too, fallen for the charity card.
I did Celebrity Who wants to be a millionaire – a Valentine’s Day special with Fiona – because you think you might win a million for charity. We went out at 8k, did worse than Mr and Mrs Greg Rusedski.
Ok clever clogs here was the question … which country launched space station skylab? US, UK, France or Russia. 8k. Talk about a stitch up. Half million pound question if ever there was one. We had actually used up our ask the audience on the first question – whose catchphrase is Knowing Me Knowing You (I don’t watch much telly, sorry) so we had 50-50 – went to America and France – and phone a friend who said ‘no idea’. So we guessed France, wrong. (NB, The RTS audience also failed on this – two people got the right answer)
Jamie’s Dream School, said yes, cos educational. Soccer Aid yes cos played with Maradona, which was one of best experiences of my life. Sky Arts on bagpipes said yes because it meant playing at the Royal Concert Hall in Glasgow.
Then there was Comic Relief Does the Apprentice, I said No, eight times, but Emma Freud turned up at my house, waited for my daughter to arrive, plied her with sweets, persuaded her to persuade me. One of the most stressful weeks of my life. Out of comfort zone. No PA. Had to use a stapler. Had to stop Piers Morgan and Rupert Everett killing each other. Perhaps I shouldn’t.
Piers … ‘ if you want to get me fired, I’m happy.’ So I did. Oh dear says Piers, everyone is going to be talking about little old me.
Can’t help liking Piers. First met him at the Mandela tribute concert or Live Aid, can’t remember which. I was on the Mirror, he was on the Sun. We talked about ambition. I said mine was to play a part in getting rid of the Tories. He said his was to be very very rich and very very famous. Done ok.
I was looking through my diaries the other day, researching a tribute to David Frost, so I was going through all the stuff about interviews and interviewers and there is a bit in 1994 where Neil Kinnock is trying to talk me out of working for TB, said you’ll be at the beck and call of a bunch of shits when you could be the next Brian Walden or the next Michael Parkinson? I don’t know if I could … but actually Parky’s wife thought so. We were at a test match a few years ago… she said you must get a chat show. Why? Because if you don’t the next Michael Parkinson is going to be Piers bloody Morgan. Little did we know he was the next Larry King and the next, well, everyone.
Now I do want to say a few words about David Frost. Such a big part of your industry and of all of our lives. Frost-Nixon shorthand for great TV journalism as Watergate is for investigative journalism.
I did an interview with the Ham and High three days before he died to promote my new novel and was asked who was best political interviewer. I said David. The guy said is that because he was soft on you? I said no, it was because people thought he was soft. He wasn’t. He was nice. And that brought out people.
You need all sorts of styles. Humphries hectoring, fine, but it is like boxing or football, you work out how to defend, you know where the attacks are coming from. It usually ends as a nil nil draw. Frostie went for 5-3 wins and with Nixon he went for global slam dunks. What would Tony have said if Humphries had said ‘do you pray together, you and George Bush?’
Oh don’t be so ridiculous.
But David… better answer. Great moment.
And he was above all a journalist. A businessman yes but a journalist. And his networking was a part of his journalism. So when we had a massive story – pre 97 election, and we had Tory MP Alan Howarth lined up to defect to Labour on the eve of the Tory conference, it was obvious who to tip off a few days before and get his programme planned.
Who was the one we wanted to do for TB to settle the country down the day after Diana’s funeral –David.
And you’d think after all he had done, there could be nothing to keep rocking his boat but the fantastic thing about David was he never stopped being enthusiastic.
So when, at a G8 summit, with Northern Ireland going a bit wrong, we thought a joint Blair-Clinton interview would help the process, and Clinton agreed to do it, I called David to tell him. Thus, for the only time in the 350,000 words of the Blair Years, did one of those words become ‘orgasmic’, as David said how he felt about it.
Anyone who has ever been to his summer parties, where he invited his five thousand closest friends to join him in a quiet Chelsea garden will know how popular he was. What David did best was know people, and be liked by people, so that when he phoned up in February, and says “let’s have a jolly lunch to talk about Tony coming on in the first week of next January, you know it’s going to happen”. He interviewed Seven US Presidents, and met almost as many Prime Ministers as the Queen, who– uniquely – resisted his blandishments.
Then there was the time TB used breakfast with Frost to announce we were going to increase NHS spending to meet the EU average. Another newsleader. Another ecstatic Frost. And I had barely got out of the studio when the phone rang and a less ecstatic voice came on. “Alastair, it’s Gordon.”
Unlike so many political interviewers he liked politics and he liked politicians. Unlike others he didn’t take himself too seriously. And unlike others, though he loved getting his interviews covered in the press, he wanted what the interviewee said to be the talking point, rather than himself.
Frost-Nixon the play and then the movie and the book just underlines how deeply woven into the fabric of our media history he is. Fiona and I had the pleasure of going to see the play with him and Carina. By then he had seen it so often I kept having to shush him as he said the lines along with Michael Sheen. But what a tribute to the risk he took in doing those interviews, and the result he secured.And didn’t he just love that F comes before N in the alphabet.
Absolute legend. Still, do you know which interviewer sent TB into the worst pre interview tizz ever? Don’t laugh, but Des O’Connor. Yes if you bump into Tony, ask him – were you really scared of Des? Back to being out of the comfort zone.
Want to say this … lots going wrong in Britain but telly in good shape despite it all. Some amazing drama. Documentaries of the highest quality. Sports coverage gets better and better. Remember when all you got was a QPR goal on the evening news because that was the only ground near enough to TV centre. Now as much as you want.
All doing better than the rest of the economy, and key to the economic recovery.
Like everyone with a profile I have my ups and downs with the media. But when I think of all that emerged at Leveson about the press, and then I think of all the good stuff broadcasters do, I don’t like the idea of being seen as hammer of the Beeb. And I am absolutely of the view we should resist the Foxisation of our news with all our might. Fair and balanced my arse.
I was told by the event organisers, no names, Armando Ianucci was your best and Clive Anderson the worst in this slot. In the hope I can be nearer to Ianucci, I want to tell you my Thick of It Story when Peter Capaldi and I had a charity swearathon to raise money for our respective charities at BGC Capital, where William and HArry were yesterday, who give all the profits from trades on September 11 to good causes.
So I stepped up first and told the story of a relative of mine, a farmer whose tractor had broken down and said ‘fuck it, the fucking fucker is fucked to fucking fuckery and I am fucking fucked off with it.’Hard to beat. Capaldi tries, but struggles, then a man rushes the stage and unplugs the microphone, announcing to our horror than the entire exchanges have been broadcast throughout the building … including the creche.
(I closed with a story David used to tell about Denis Thatcher but don’t have time to tell it here. Despite my raging flu I am off up north to see friends, do breakfast telly tomorrow and then Burnley v Blackburn, possibly the biggest game of the season so far, indeed ever, since time began.