Steve Crabtree: From nuclear subs to new Horizon editor
Steve Crabtree's abbreviated CV could read something like this… Work experience: Painting nuclear submarines. School qualifications: None. Hobbies: Listening to dull podcasts about board games.
All the more surprising, then, that the latest update to his resume is editor of Horizon, a role he started last week.
To say that his career trajectory has been somewhat unconventional might just be understating it a bit.
End Quote Steve Crabtree Editor, Horizon
My claim to fame was producing a Top Five thrash metal single for the Norwegian heavy metal charts”
Leaving school at 15, Crabtree began an apprenticeship in industrial painting at a shipyard in his hometown of Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, mainly painting nuclear submarines.
Now it's not very often you meet media folk who've done that. 'That's always the thing that sticks in people's minds but it wasn't just submarines, I did do tanks and field guns,' he says. 'But mostly nuclear submarines.'
Crabtree knew it wasn't for him, though. You'd typically have found him with the latest Batman comic and a copy of New Scientist, which he'd snuck on board to read instead of painting the sub.
A love of comics and science - and the science fiction blend of the two - have been lifelong passions. The Batman tattoo peeking out of his shirt sleeve is one such proof of that. As are the 'tens of thousands of comics' he says are all wrapped and stored away at his parents' house, souvenirs of a comic-collecting youth.Norwegian thrash metal
Music and television are two more of Crabtree's great loves.
It was while at the shipyard that he first forayed into the world of recording and production - albeit with music rather than film. He was playing in a heavy rock band, using his weekends to escape to a recording studio near the Lake District.
But even with regular studio access, it took his band five years to record their demo. A music-playing career did not beckon.
'I was in no way successful but I really got into producing,' he says. 'My claim to fame was producing a Top Five thrash metal single for the Norwegian heavy metal charts - at least that's what I was told.'
End Quote Steve Crabtree
I was incredibly geeky about television. I had thousands of hours of programmes and documentaries, and a big chunk of them were Horizons”
After eight years at the shipyard, Crabtree was made redundant - or as he puts it, 'I kind of made myself redundant because I was so miserable there.'
Forgoing the Norwegian thrash metal scene, he then studied art in Carlisle. 'I really got a taste for filmmaking and producing [there] - always documentary; I was never drawn to drama.'
After earning some work experience with the BBC, he moved to London, where he now lives with his wife and a 'small, extremely vicious rescue dog - re-homed but not reformed'. The Cumbrian breed is merely a coincidence, he assures me, and not a yearning for home.
Initially he supported his unpaid work on the National Lottery and Watchdog with weekend work decorating Londoners' kitchens.
Although he wasn't done with the nuclear submarines just yet.'Incredibly geeky about television'
After sending his CV to his favourite shows - 'basically Horizon' - he got called in to meet the programme's deputy editor.
'The first thing she said to me was, 'Steve, I've got to be honest, there isn't a job on Horizon at the moment. But, I've never met anyone who used to paint nuclear submarines. What's it like?' - and we just had this really brilliant conversation and my love of TV started to come out.
'I was incredibly geeky about television. I had thousands of hours of programmes and documentaries, and a big chunk of them were Horizons.'
A few weeks later he got a call to work on the science development team, and shortly after Tomorrow's World, joining the show as a junior researcher and eventually leaving as a producer. His first show, appropriately enough, was called The Science of Spiderman.
He's stuck to the BBC ever since, working across all TV channels, as well as various departments and genres, from business to music.
Switching between channels 'keeps your brain really nimble', he says, as the same topic would be treated differently depending on whether it's set for BBC One, Two, Three, or Four.
'It might be black holes or [about] diet and exercise - other ends of the spectrum - and I think that's what's so exciting.'
Among an impressive body of credits, Crabtree says he's proudest of being the series producer on the last Child of Our Time, as well as the Michael Mosley-presented Pain, Pus and Poison.
Although he also loved meeting the Sex Pistols' Johnny Rotten and their manager Malcolm McLaren for Blood on the Turntable.
'Part of the fun of working in TV is you try and meet your heroes every now and again.'Podcasts about board games
Outside of work it's a different type of challenge that drives him.
'I'm a huge video game player. Massive in fact. Unbelievably geeky in the sense that I've completed every single Grand Theft Auto game [and] I'm halfway through the new Batman game.'
But his interest is led by an appetite for almost anything popular culture has to offer. 'I try and absorb it all, really.'
And he means it. At least as far as one can call listening to extremely obscure podcasts 'popular' culture.
'There was one about board games. There must have been about seven people in the entire world who listened to it but, for some reason, I just find it quite cathartic and relaxing. It was just one bloke talking about board games. It was really quite dull, but there was something sweet about it.'Back to the submarines
One of the compromises of moving up the managerial ladder is that moving away from directing, which is what Crabtree loved in the first place.
End Quote Steve Crabtree
When I left the shipyard I swore to myself I'd never go back unless I wanted to, so to walk in this time with a camera... I felt really privileged”
But it's appropriate that the last film he directed took him back to the shipyard in Cumbria, as part of the How to Build... series that he himself had pitched - with the first episode fittingly about making a nuclear submarine.
'When I left the shipyard I swore to myself I'd never go back unless I wanted to, so to walk in this time with a camera... I felt really privileged. I saw lots of old mates who I'd done my apprenticeship with and were still there in the shipyard 20 years later. It was brilliant.'
Now Crabtree's turning his attention to steering the future of Horizon, and although he's excited to share his ideas with the team he says he's in no rush to wade in and start 'messing around' with a show that's 'doing really well'.
And as the show is in production all year, with upcoming episodes already at an advanced stage of development, he's able to ease his way in.
'My influence, for whatever it may be, won't really be felt until summer [or] autumn.'
And if Crabtree's influence on Horizon is anything like his influence on the Norwegian thrash metal charts then fans can look forward to what's ahead.