Sunday 23 June 2024

On the Shelf

There's something which happened to me a couple of weeks ago which I've been meaning to mention here, but not got round to. I've finally been inspired to sit down and write about it today as it's a story I tell on an episode of a podcast on which I make a guest appearance, which was released this morning. The podcast is Gasbags from SOUNDYARD, run by my good friends and former colleagues Anna and Sophie. Gasbags is their own podcast about running the business, and their lives, and anything else which takes their fancy, and with Anna unavailable this week due to undergoing an operation, they very kindly and flatteringly asked me if I would sit-in alongside Sophie. As a sort of 'Guestbag', I suppose! You can have a listen to it here:

Anyway, on the episode I talk about the surprise I had earlier this month when I was rather aimlessly browsing the shelves of Waterstones in Norwich. I often think, whenever I am in a big bookshop like that, with all of those thousands of books and that unique 'new book' smell all around, what a fine thing it would be to have one of my own books on those shelves. I am pretty certain I may even have thought it when I walked into the shop that day.

Don't misunderstand me. I am very proud of the books that I have had published, and pleased with how they have been sold. There is no question that more people have found and enjoyed them through them being sold online than if they had only been available to stumble across by chance on the shelves of a bookshop.

And yet...

There is something a little special about the idea of having a book of your own on sale in a shop like that. I know I shouldn't think this, and others may rubbish it or even be offended by it. But I can't escape the idea, just speaking purely personally for myself, that in some tiny way it would make me feel a little bit more of a 'proper' writer.

And that day, browsing the shelves of the TV and film section in Waterstones, suddenly and completely unexpectedly there it was. There *I* was. Nestled between William Goldman's Adventures in the Screen Trade and David Hendy's book about the BBC, a copy of The Long Game. It took me a fraction of a second to process it, as I recognised the spine. A feeling of disbelief, and then pride. I didn't exactly shed a tear, thank goodness, but it did feel a bit of an emotional moment.

All those year, decades, of going into big, high street bookshops like that and fantasising about one day having something of my own on the shelves. And now, there it was.

It hit me all the more because of it being such a surprise. I had no idea Waterstones stocked it, and I hadn't gone there looking for it. I'd had absolutely no idea it was there.

Admittedly when I had another look last weekend, it was still there. I didn't know whether to be pleased, or disappointed that nobody had bought it! I suppose maybe I ought to have done to encourage them to stock more, but that would be a bit self-defeating! 

No, I did not offer to sign it!

Monday 25 March 2024

Podcast Piece


It's been a quiet start to the year here on the blog, with almost a quarter of it now gone already and nothing said.

That's mostly because it has been a quiet time writing-wise - although that's in terms of it appearing, rather than me doing. In fact, some rather exciting things have been happening as regards my latest writing efforts, although nothing which I can say anything about for the moment. But, all being well, there should be a lot more to say over the course of the year!

However, the reason for breaking silence now is that I have this month had a small addition to the ranks of my professional credits. This was another piece for the Radio Times, this time one of the small capsule reviews they run on their podcast pages.

I was able to contribute a short item about Chris Skinner's Countryside Podcast, and as with my two pieces last year it was a great honour, a pleasure and a privilege to be able to write something for the Radio Times

Not much, of course, but they all count! And nice to be featured in an issue with such a striking front cover, too.

Sunday 31 December 2023

"The best of luck!"

I've been having a look back at my New Year's Eve post from twelve months ago, as is only natural as this year draws to a close, now into its final few hours here in the UK.

I mentioned in that post that in 2022 I'd written a draft of a new non-fiction book, and that " looks as if it may appear sometime in 2023." In fact, I was underselling things a bit there. At that point I was probably about 90% sure it would be published this year, and I was also pretty confident that it was quite good.

Pull to Open did indeed come out, somewhat delayed by various factors but it finally got there in August, and the response has been amazing. I'm very proud of the book, and incredibly pleased with how it has been received. There may, perhaps, even be something new coming on that score in 2024 - but once again I have to be slightly cagey about that, as nothing is anywhere near being definite yet.

In fact, there is more than one iron in the fire for exciting new writing possibilities in the New Year. Obviously I am well-aware that these things might not actually end up happening. They are only possibilities at the moment. But it is nice to at least have something to look forward to, in that respect; to be able to greet the passing of the year with the possibility of some fresh exciting prospects, rather than thinking all of the interesting things are now behind me.

Mind you, on that score, this time last year I was also talking about the radio documentaries I'd made. This year, there have been no radio documentaries, and sadly I don't think there ever will be again. That chapter of my career seems to be over and done with now. Treasure Quest also came to an end - a huge wrench for me, and for many others. Not just the closing of a chapter, but the closing of an entire book.

I spent most of the year at risk of redundancy, but I was luckier than many - after six job interviews, or 'boards' as the BBC calls them, I managed to hang onto a role. A very different one to what I was doing before, but I do appreciate that I am one of the fortunate ones. I do still have a job.

And it enables me to still do interesting things. Last year I was writing about the George Russell documentary I made - and this year I got to have even more of a play at covering Formula One. I even produced an F1-based radio show for a few months. I had a piece about the 60th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination go out on The World Tonight on Radio 4, and a Doctor Who 60th anniversary piece on the World Service - an anniversary which saw me appear on around thirty different BBC stations in total in one form or another.

I also wrote for the Radio Times, and for the BBC History website this year... Yes, it sounds as if I tot these things up as if they add some sense of value to my life. And hey, why not? It's as good a measure for me as anyone else's measures are for them.

Anybody who has enthusiastically followed Paul Kerensa's British Broadcasting Century podcast may well have been struck, as I was, by the words of Arthur Burrows on the BBC's 2LO station in London just after midnight on New Year's Day 1923 - the first ever New Year of the brand new BBC as a whole. Fitting that Burrows should be there to see the New Year in, as he'd been the first ever voice on the BBC the previous month.

I'd never heard this before Paul included it in his episode looking at that first BBC change of years - which by coincidence also happened to be an episode on which I made a guest appearance, talking about my book The Long Game. Anyway, Burrows' actual words from the night were never recorded, going out live into the ether and that was that. But we do know what he said, and Paul recreated the moment for the podcast.

"2LO wishes you a happy and prosperous New Year. May you have the best of luck - goodbye everybody, goodbye. And the best of luck!"

I was particularly taken with it was because of the way it captures two of those feelings of New Year's Eve and the passing of midnight. It feels, as the New Year often does, like one of those fleeting moments of camaraderie when we are all in this together. A sense of optimism and a willingness for everyone's hopes and dreams and ambitions for the next 12 months to be fulfilled, whatever they may be.

Before cold, hard reality sets in through the still, quiet dawn of January the 1st.

But still, I do like the sentiment. So, whoever you are, wherever you are and whatever you're doing - the best of luck!

Saturday 30 December 2023

A New World Somewhere

It's been many years, until now, since I last wrote for a fanzine. At least fifteen, I would say, and probably inching closer to twenty. There's no particular reason for this - I'm not anti-fanzine at all, and in my teens and early twenties wrote for them quite regularly, particularly for the Doctor Who Appreciation Society's Celestial Toyroom. It was certainly a boost to my confidence as a young and aspiring writer that other people thought my work worth publishing, even on an amateur basis. And it's always much better and more fun to write something which you know is actually going to be read by somebody!

It think it just happened that it became far easier to write for online - when I moved on from writing for CT I ended up writing quite a bit for the old Outpost Gallifrey Doctor Who fan site. It was a lot quicker and easier to get things put up, of course, and you got more of an instant reaction, so I sort of naturally fell into doing that. And then gradually did less and less fan writing at all as I became more involved with the BBC and my career there.

But anyway, all this serves as mere background to the fact that for the first time in many years, I have now written for a fanzine - although it seems almost disrespectful to call it that. Vworp Vworp! is an impressively put-together magazine, which comes out at irregular intervals and was originally based around Doctor Who Magazine and its comic strip. However, for the latest issue in this Doctor Who sixtieth anniversary year the sixth issue - more of a bookazine than a magazine, so laden with pieces is it - is all based around the show's very beginnings. If you're interested in that era, I highly recommend it - there are many fascinating articles on aspects you might not even have considered before, from a 'who's who' of writers whose names you'll know well if you have even a casual research interest in this era of British television history.

I was actually approached and asked if I would be interested in contributing a piece, given how I'd been researching the era for my own book Pull to Open. This, of course, I was very happy to do - as it gave me the opportunity to expand on a story I'd only had time to touch on briefly in Pull to Open itself. This was the story of director Rex Tucker, a name anyone interested in the creation of Doctor Who will recognise, and his efforts to get his own science-fiction serial The Seekers off the ground. What is that story? Well, I'm afraid you'll have to get hold of your own copy of Vworp Vworp! issue six to learn that!

Or Pull to Open, of course! Which continues to attract very kind comments from its readers. And perhaps even create exciting new opportunities for me - of which more, possibly, in the New Year, if anything comes of it.

But I think it's fair to say that the book has gone down better than I could ever have hoped. Since I last wrote on here I've been fortunate enough to appear on two further podcasts discussing it, The Doctor Who Literature Podcast and the Power of 3. And AJ Black very kindly included me on his list of his top-ten favourite books of 2023, alongside some very big hitters!

Pull to Open is, I hardly need say, still very much available from Ten Acre Films if you're interested in having a read!

Sunday 26 November 2023

Mopping Up... Or Moping Up...?

Am I just a worthless parasite, leeching off other people’s creativity?
It’s a paranoia which does seize me, sometimes. Not often; not all the time. But last night, watching last night’s very enjoyable return of Doctor Who, I was at one point towards the end overcome with that melancholy feeling of knowing I could never, ever do this. I could never do what Russell T Davies does.
Now, he’s a genius of course, so it’s true that most people can’t do what he does. So there shouldn’t be any need to feel bad because I don’t have his talent and ability. His insight. And I long ago realised that I would never be involved in actual Doctor Who itself. That it wasn’t something to which I was naturally suited; wasn’t an industry which I had any clue as to how to find any sort of place for myself in.
And that’s fine. That’s okay. Doctor Who is my favourite thing in all the world, but just because you love something doesn’t mean you have to be a part of it. Football fans know they will never be a member of the team, no matter how much it means to them, and how deeply embedded it is in their lives.
Doctor Who is designed to be watched, and enjoyed. Indeed, that’s its sole reason for existing. The purpose of putting on a show is to get an audience, to paraphrase Eric Maschwitz. And there is something about Doctor Who, as with so many shows whose audiences are so passionate, which fires people up to be creatively engaged. So many of us do so according to our own talents. Whether that be making music inspired by it, or creating art, or writing stories, or making reaction videos, or yes, studying the history and wanting to find out more about how it was made, and sharing that history with others. Sharing that love and enthusiasm.
Which you’d think would only be a good thing… But that worry does take hold of me, every now and then. I’m so proud of writing books and articles about this show, making radio pieces about it. Proud that I can be a tiny little part of it in my professional life, be engaged with it and share that engagement. But is it all just worthless? Would I not be better off trying to create and do something of my own? Am I just a laughable figure, building so much of my life around something to which I have made absolutely no contribution whatsoever, and have never had anything to do with?
I think part of this latest mood of introspection was brought on by my final radio piece about Doctor Who of the anniversary week. I’d had the idea to do a piece about overseas fans of the show; getting an outside perspective on this thing which is such a part of British popular culture. I pitched the piece to PM on BBC Radio 4, and to my surprise and excitement they liked it and went for it. I worked hard on it, I think I did a pretty good job with it, but eventually it ended up just falling off the bottom of the show at the end of the week.
Now, I should make it very clear this is not supposed to be a moan about PM, or anything remotely like that. I am well aware that when you make a light piece for a serious news programme like that, you are always at the mercy of events. That’s the very nature of the beast. I absolutely understand the precarious nature of that, and that there were and are far more important things going on in the world. I’m not for a moment saying they were in any way wrong to drop it. Had I been in the producer’s chair, I’d have done exactly the same.
Yes, dropped by Today and by PM in the same week. At least I’m being dropped by the classy programmes!
But it made me introspective because it would have meant so much to me, to have had a piece about Doctor Who, that show I have loved so much and for so long, going out on a network programme. To be a little part of the anniversary on one of the national stations. Even after, across the anniversary period, ending up in either live or recorded form, as an interviewee or a package maker, across about 30 other BBC stations.

And it made me wonder… is that really healthy? To be so invested in something so completely outside of my control. To be a middle-aged man so desperate to pick up a few crumbs and scraps from the network table. If you were good enough for this sort of thing, Paul, you’d have been doing it regularly by now. Not just occasionally getting almost-somewhere-close when there happened to be one of the very few subjects you can make something to network standard about.
And even stepping back from that moping, I had a hell of a week – the Kennedy piece went out on The World Tonight on Radio 4, and a version of my CNS Doctor Who piece went out on the World Service. That’s not bad going at all.
Here is that PM piece by the way, if you fancy a listen. I rather like it, and I was at least able to get it out on several of the BBC Local Radio stations on Saturday, via my colleagues at CNS. So my interviewees did get to go out on the BBC's airwaves, which I was pleased with:

But it’s all so dependant on other things. Other people’s decisions. On events, dear boy, events. And all of this – studying Doctor Who’s history, writing about it, making radio pieces about it – can make you feel like a hanger-on. Or a vampire. Feasting on the lifeblood of something created and maintained by others.
I once watched an interview with the great Mark Lewisohn, one of the most esteemed and respected chroniclers of British popular culture in the second half of the 20th century, especially regarding The Beatles. He’s even worked for The Beatles on all sorts of projects, helping to chronicle their history as accurately as possible and preserve for ages the facts rather than the anecdotes. And even he, possibly the most highly-regarded person working in that field, related how he was once told by one member of the band, dismissively: “you weren’t there.”
As if that makes any study conducted by him somehow invalid.
No, he wasn’t there, and would never claim to have been. If you’re writing history you can’t pretend to know precisely how the particular people involved thought and felt. But you can try your best to relate what happened, often with a far wider overview of the situation and with far more information available to you than anybody involved would have had at the time.
Russel T Davies once wrote in Doctor Who Magazine that the problem with telling stories of working on Doctor Who, and this probably holds true for people’s involvement with any kind of popular endeavour, is that as time goes past you start to remember and tell the tale of the anecdote rather than what happened. To go back to The Beatles example, we saw the reassessment of their late era which took place when a much wider selection of the footage shot for Let It Be was made available in Peter Jackson’s Get Back. Ringo Starr himself was surprised, remarking that for years he’d been remembering the film of Let It Be rather than what actually happened.
The same is true in Doctor Who. Sydney Newman, when he started giving interviews about the creation of the show in the 1980s, would tell the story of how he was asked to come up with something more appealing that fusty old Dickens adaptations, the ‘classic serial’, for Saturday teatimes.
Except that isn’t true.

There’d been no classic serials on Saturdays for years by the point that Newman arrived. They were already well-established on Sundays, where they remained for many years afterwards. It was true that he didn’t like them, but they proved too popular for him to kill off and obviously 20 years later he confused his memory of disliking the classic serials with the start of Doctor Who, and had the one related to the other in his memory.
Does pointing this out mean I like or respect the work of Newman any the less? Of course not. Does it diminish him in anybody’s eyes? Not a jot. I think it’s far more interesting, though, and revealing, to know what actually happened. For the record, we don’t actually know why Stuart Hood and Donald Baverstock decided they wanted a new type of children’s serial for the Saturday teatime slot, but looking at what was actually there shows us it was often a rag-tag assortment – film import westerns like The Lone Ranger and The Range Rider; US cartoons such as Top Cat and Deputy Dawg; home-made comedies like Just William and Mr Pastry; and short-run BBC-made serials, most popularly the returning adventure of Garry Halliday.
I can’t tell you what Newman, Hood or Baverstock thought of these. But I can tell you what happened – they were abandoned and replaced with Doctor Who.
And there are people out there who enjoy reading this kind of history. I know, I have been one of them for decades. I know because I’ve had lots of lovely reviews and kind comments for my work. So it’s not as if there isn’t an audience for this. That there aren’t people who enjoy it…
But I still have that doubt. That nag. That paranoia. That those who can do, and those who can’t write about it. About whether it’s a worthwhile pastime. Or whether I am, as I say, just a parasite, feeding off the success and the creativity of others.
Do people who write about other areas of non-fiction worry about this, I wonder? Do people who write military history find themselves seized with guilt at building their work on the misery, the suffering, the death of so many people? Do sports writers worry they can never truly know how it feels to be on the pitch, and that they are laughed at by those who do? Do authors of true crime histories feel they take advantage of the fate of their subjects?
I don’t know. Maybe. Probably. But is it worse when you’re writing about something creative? Often, writing about writers?
I enjoy doing it, don’t get me wrong. I do it because I enjoy it. This isn’t a feeling which occupies me constantly. But it does nag at me, every now and then. Especially when watching something like last night’s Doctor Who, knowing that’s something I could never, ever do. That I could never be involved with.
Oh, there was one more online piece, by the way, from my local BBC News Online colleagues, based on my Radio Norfolk Doctor Who piece from Thursday. They put it up yesterday with a co-byline for me, although that’s just a courtesy thing out of kindness – you couldn’t really say I wrote much of this. But it is funny that it has Martin’s name on it too, as that’s what ended up happening with a Doctor Who piece he made from my radio material ten year ago as well.
The more things change…

Thursday 23 November 2023

Merry Who-mas!

Earlier this year, I was asked by BBC History if I would write their official Doctor Who 60th anniversary article. This was, of course, extremely flattering, and one of the things I am most proud of in my BBC career and in my writing career, given how much Doctor Who means to me, and how much it means to the BBC.
But, obviously, it was also quite a task. Sixty years of history. How to try and sum up what that means, and why it is such a special thing to so many people?
You can’t cover everything, of course. Or even a lot of things. So, guided by some of what BBC History wanted to include, I tried to write something simple and clean and clear which, hopefully, attempts to show some of the power of the series.
Here’s what I came up with:
Today is the 23rd of November – the anniversary of Doctor Who. Sixty years old this year. I suspect it’s probably not uncommon for Doctor Who fans to take stock on this date; to reflect on the passing of the years and where they’ve been in their lives when this anniversary has rolled around at different stages, in the same way that you might do for birthdays or Christmases. So, where have anniversaries past found me…?
The first Doctor Who anniversary of which I was aware, at the age of nine. I was already a dedicated and enthusiastic fan of the series by this stage, so very interested in everything that was going on. I remember being very excited by the “Look Who’s Back – in 3D!” Radio Times cover, promoting what turned out to be a bit of a disappointing mini-return in aid of Children in Need with Dimensions in Time. The Radio Times issue itself was great, though, and I kept it and pored over the articles inside – I think my copy is probably still up in the box of my things in my parents’ attic.

The actual anniversary itself was on a Tuesday, and I watched a VHS of The Five Doctors borrowed from my friend Alex, who was the only person I knew at the time who was also interested in the show. He grew out of it, I never did! It was only ten years old then, but felt very old, very archive. Probably not surprising when that was longer than I'd been alive for. I'd love to know if something from ten years ago feels like archive material to a child of nine now.

I had seen it before, round Alex’s house, which was probably fortunate as I clearly recall my viewing being interrupted by my sister throwing a deflated whoopee cushion at me – don’t ask! – and knocking over a cup of tea I had next to me onto the sofa. This caused my dad to angrily take said whoopee cushion out to his shed and cut it up with a Stanley knife. The things which stick in the memory!
What I do remember particularly strongly are the documentaries – 30 Years in the TARDIS shown on BBC1 on the Monday after the anniversary, the 29th, but especially the Radio 2 documentary Doctor Who – 30 Years, which had gone out the Saturday before the anniversary, the 20th. Which I was surprised at when I looked it up – it was so clearly lodged in my mind as a Sunday when we sat in the living room and listened to it. The memory does indeed cheat.
Anyway, I recorded it onto cassette tape – having to turn it over partway through! – and listened to it repeatedly over the following years. So much of that documentary is deeply etched onto my brain, and I can see echoes of it, and deliberate references to it, in so much of my own radio work, both in my documentaries and in some of my shorter features. It opened with that dramatic clip of Jimmy Kingsbury announcing that President Kennedy had been shot, with which I opened by own piece about the BBC’s coverage of that event which I mentioned in yesterday’s entry – it’s the obvious piece of archive to use, but of course that connection was on my mind when I did it.
Speaking of which, do you remember how I said I was sad that my Kennedy piece was dropped by Today? Well, I discovered today that a slightly cut-down version of it did actually get a network airing on BBC Radio 4, last night. It went out as the final item on yesterday’s The World Tonight – so, for a few minutes, I was indeed at the helm of HMS BBC for a bit after all!
Ten years on, and as a 19-year-old student I was in my second year studying English Literature at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, and of course still very much a Doctor Who fan, even with everything else which might have changed about me over the intervening decade.

This was the first time I had the opportunity and the inclination to try and do something for the anniversary myself, in terms of a creative endeavour. One of the things I’d become involved with as a teenager was the Brighton Area Doctor Who Appreciation Society, although obviously from the time I’d left to go away to university the previous year this association was from a distance.
I’d edited their newsletter, and although I’d handed over the reins when I left, from Norwich I put together a special edition of it for the anniversary, which my friend Tim printed and distributed – to all of the dozen or so members! – back in Sussex. I also ended up writing most of the content, but had great fun doing so!
It was a slightly strange time, as the recommissioning of the show had been announced in September but its arrival, and even its production, was still a long way off. We had the online animated version Scream of the Shalka and I bought the CD of the Big Finish Productions anniversary story Zagreus, which I found confusing and disappointing. The announcement of the return had sparked me into becoming a bit more involved with online fandom, and I had begun to become a bit of a regular amateur ‘stringer’, of sorts, for the much-loved Doctor Who News Page run by Shaun Lyon on Outpost Gallifrey, scouring online sources for any news to pass on.
On the anniversary itself, a Sunday this time around, I actually re-watched the first serial on a VHS borrowed from Norwich library! My tape of the serial was boxed up back home in Sussex, it wasn’t out on DVD yet, and online streaming didn’t yet really exist. This may have been one of the last times I watched a Doctor Who story on a commercial VHS release.
Still in Norwich, now aged 29 and working as a full-time member of staff for the BBC. Working for the BBC! I never could have imagined such a thing twenty years earlier. I would have been very excited to have known that it would one day happen, though – and even more so to know that it would mean I would be able to have some sort of professional involvement with the series I loved so much.

The previous year, all of the BBC Local Radio stations had done something called “My Beatles Story” – marking the 50th anniversary of the release of their first single. The idea was to find people living in the area you covered who had some interesting story about, passion for or connection to The Beatles, and record features of them telling their tales to run on the chosen day.
I’d already started by this stage to get myself a little bit of a reputation within the station for an ability for documentary and feature work, and I’d been chosen – admittedly probably because few others would have been either interested or had the time – to be the person in charge of the BBC Radio Norfolk “My Beatles Story” pieces. I’d managed to do quite a few rather nice pieces for the day itself, and had put a compilation of them together for Christmas 2012.
The following year, then, when I heard whispers that we’d be following this up across BBC Local Radio with “My Doctor Who Story”, I was desperate to be the one to do it. In truth, I probably once again didn’t really have much in the way of competition, but I was very relieved to once again be the one asked to do it.
Ten years on, I still think that 13 features I managed to put together for “Norfolk’s Doctor Who Stories” are some of the best pieces I have made in my radio career. I think they had the right combination of knowing enough about the subject to ensure that they were conveying what the interviewee was saying and what they remembered in an accurate and insightful way, but I had enough radio craft by then to be able to make them engaging and accessible for a general listenership. I was and remain very proud of them, and was particularly pleased that more than one colleague of mine who had no particular interest in Doctor Who told me how good they thought they had been.
It was also, of course, a great thrill to be doing actual Doctor Who-related work for the BBC. So much of the reason why I have ended up working for the BBC, and why I am so proud to do so, is because of the interest in broadcasting and its history which was sparked by reading about and becoming interested in Doctor Who and its history. The material I came up with in 2013 even got a plug on the BBC Doctor Who website, which pleased me no end.
They were important pieces for my career outside of radio, too. One of them was with the writer David Fisher, and I came up with the idea of fashioning the interview into a piece for Doctor Who Magazine, which they accepted the following year and eventually published in early 2015. This led on to eventually doings all sorts of other bits and pieces for them, which has in turn helped to lead on to even more other things.

The anniversary itself was a Saturday, and I actually took time off work that weekend so I could travel down to Sussex and watch the special, The Day of the Doctor, in the same living room in which I’d fallen in love with the show all those years ago. Although I think the absolute highlight of the anniversary for me had probably come earlier in the month, when I’d had the chance to attend the premiere of An Adventure in Space and Time at the British Film Institute in London, which was a very moving experience.
Still in Norwich, still at the BBC, and now at the age of 39 becoming a middle-aged man, recently switched to being a newsreader rather than a producer, too. There wasn’t really any concerted effort to do any BBC Local Radio-wide celebration of the anniversary this time around. Perhaps partly because a 60th doesn’t seem quite the same landmark as a 50th, perhaps partly because fashions and trends change for such things, perhaps purely because there are different demands and requirements of the service now.
But it has to be said I have not been short of work or excitement for this one!

I only did one piece for Norfolk this time around – I really wasn’t sure what else I could do after all those pieces a decade ago. But I was able to tell some new stories, particularly focusing on Patrick Troughton’s time serving in the Royal Navy in Great Yarmouth during the Second World War, for which I was able to interview his son Michael.
Having learned while researching Pull to Open that Sydney Newman had once lived in Durrington, and having known that William Hartnell once lived in Worthing, I was able to pitch to Radio Sussex the idea of a bespoke piece for them based around that, which they kindly accepted. So I was able to do a BBC piece about Doctor Who which opens in my parents’ living room! That may be taking the idea of ‘local radio’ to extremes, I know, but it was a good piece – I promise!
BBC History had recommended me as a Doctor Who ‘expert’ to the Central News Service, CNS, the part of the BBC which provides the Local Radio stations with material related to national news stories, and general feature items. They asked me to do a Doctor Who piece which the stations could run today, and thanks to BBC Radiophonic Workshop archivist Mark Ayres I was even able to include in it a little treasure not broadcast for 60 years – a recording of the actual continuity announcement into the very first episode of the show. An edit of this piece even ended up going out on the BBC World Service this evening - hello world!
CNS also offered me up to stations for two-ways to talk about the anniversary and the show, so I spent two hours this morning in our little broom cupboard studio in Norwich speaking to presenters across the country. Which was actually really good fun, and by the end I was a bit sad there weren’t still more to go! Having been on the other end of that process so many times over the past 15 years, it was fascinating to experience it from that perspective, too. I think I gave good value, and overall today I ended up appearing, in either recorded or live interview form, on I think 24 stations, from Radio Cornwall all the way up to Radio Scotland, who aren’t served by CNS but separately asked me if I’d have a chat this lunchtime!
There may also be one more radio piece to come – I will keep you posted…
BBC History also helped to make the anniversary even more special for me by inviting me to be on a panel of speakers they assembled for an internal BBC event held yesterday at Broadcasting House to help mark the anniversary. I was of course delighted to be asked, although I did feel slightly out of place, given all the other speakers were actual, proper people who are really involved with the programme and its associated activities in one way or another!

But it was a lovely event to be a part of, and once again it felt very pleasing indeed to be a part of the BBC’s own celebrations of that show that I love. It was nice to have the chance to visit Broadcasting House again, too – the first time I’d been there for a few years. If you work there every day perhaps you get used to it, but on the few occasions I have been there is always that little thrill. That sense of history; of being a part of that heritage.
There have been other bits and pieces, too… Aside from my having written a book about the creation of the show this year, of course! An article today about Flight into Danger’s link to Doctor Who for Sci-Fi Bulletin… Another online piece for the BBC which should appear over the weekend…
Oh yes, and the anniversary itself. Well, I watched An Unearthly Child at a quarter past five. How could you now? It would be rude not to!
Happy birthday, Doctor Who. And Merry Who­-mas to you all!

Wednesday 22 November 2023

"We regret to announce..."

Sixty years ago today, a man was murdered.

There will have been many murders that day, across the world. But this one was heard about all around that world. 

An innocent man was shot to death, next to his wife.

It's worth keeping that in mind, I know, when you discuss the idea of the assassination of President Kennedy as an object of fascination and discussion. I know who he was, the position that he held, meant that his death transcended "mere" murder. Just as everything about his life did, once he held that office, and indeed probably as soon as he ran for it.

But you still need to call it what it was, every so often, just to remind yourself.

I freely admit it's been something which has interested me for years. Not in terms of conspiracy theories or anything like that, but because of the place it occupies in time and culture. The events with which it is indelibly associated. Including, of course, the creation of Doctor Who, which made its debut the very next day.

That place it holds in the cultural sphere is absolutely fascinating, as is how the BBC reacted to the news that evening, November 22, 1963. I dedicated an entire chapter of my new book Pull to Open to it, and even a reviewer who didn't like *all* of the book felt that this was "an emotional chapter, showcasing his ability as a writer." Other people have said it was the best chapter, too, and it was certainly my favourite to write, I think.

So I thought perhaps I could bring some of that story to a wider audience, perhaps even through my day job. I made a radio package about the BBC's coverage of the Kennedy assassination, and submitted it to the Today programme on BBC Radio 4. They liked it, and almost ran it today, but alas breaking news meant they had to drop it. That's okay, obviously. I understand that - a news programme ought always to be beholden to the present rather than the past.

A shorter version did go around to the BBC Local Radio stations thanks to my colleagues at the BBC's Central News Service, but as the full version is unlikely ever to see the light of day otherwise, here it is:

As a tie-in, the wonderful people at BBC History have also published an article I have written, going into more detail about the events of that evening from a BBC perspective. It's always nice to be able to have a piece on the BBC website, and I'm very grateful to them for taking it and putting it up there.