Backstage at the 500 WORDS Final
Editor, About the BBC Blog
500 WORDS Final, Live from Hay, Friday 30 May 2014
- audience member (adult) is excited to be in attendance at a BBC event;
- staffer (me) is pleased to see audience member excited to be in attendance;
- warm sensation of pride envelopes the staffer;
- both parties beam at one another with mutual respect.
Point 4 can go on for some time, it has to be said. The sight of a colleague running around frantically somewhere in the periphery usually reminds the staffer in question that he or she is really there to work, not beam inanely at a member of the public. After all, as we all know, beaming can sometimes be interpreted as staring. And staring, like pointing, is quite rude.
I experienced the same thing (sort of) again yesterday morning when parents and their children stepped excitedly into the BBC Tent at Hay Festival poised to take part in the 500 WORDS Final. Broadcast during Chris Evans' Breakfast Show on Radio 2 today, the final marked the culmination of 6 months work for the 500 WORDS team. The four year old creative writing competition for youngsters launched in 2011. This year’s youngest competitor was 7 years old. Yes, 7 years old.
Some of the 500 WORDS volunteer readers, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at the Final
Only six of them would be medal winners - take a read or a listen to the final 50 in Radio 2’s special podcast and see who you pick out as the winner; decision-making is difficult.
I admit it. I did wonder whether I might feel a tiny bit envious of their talents. I've long had a 'book on the go' - one I've been meaning to write for the past twelve years. Would their talent be precocious? Would their abilities play on my deep-seated insecurities? Would I leave Hay feeling bitter and resentful, tear up my drafts and trample on any remaining creative aspirations in the process?
Chris' wellie boots. Practical and stylish.
So imagine, with all of this loveliness going on, out of nowhere, a familiar face suddenly appears. "I won't tell you who we've managed to get for the show," said Alison, the 500 Words producer on the phone to me, the night before, "I don't want to ruin the surprise for you." I'm glad she didn't. Surprises are the key to any good story.
The Cumberbatch. In the BBC Tent at Hay.
To his credit, The Cumberbatch was utterly professional, if a little bemused. He had it easy. When Hugh Bonneville subsequently made an appearance, I was forced to pull out all the stops. Needs must. "Maybe I could get two pictures of you Mr Bonneville, sir? One for the blog … and one for my mother?" The tactic paid off.
That I can experience all of this running a live blog during a live radio programme, sculpted by an experienced production team who have been up since 5am, isn't a testament to me, nor the crew (although their accomplishments shouldn't in any way be played down). Rather, it's because the work of talented youngsters who have committed to a creative endeavour shines through.
Years ago, I embarked on the same thing, entering all sorts of writing competitions (many of them staged by BBC Learning). Winning wasn’t important. Embarking on the creative endeavour was. The 500 WORDS Final reminded me of that early lesson today. As a staffer I am unashamedly proud that the BBC has been and continues to be a part of that.
Jon Jacob is Editor, About the BBC Blog and Inside the BBC website.
- The winners and their stories feature on the 500 WORDS website.
- Download the 50 shortlisted stories read by members of the BBC Radio Drama Company.
- Listen to the Chris Evans Breakfast Show from Friday 30 May during which the winners were announced.
- Read the blog post from the 500 WORDS Masterclass staged in the Radio Theatre.