Thursday 24 March 2011, 13:20
At the age of 15, my week's work experience stretched ahead of me forever. And that's what I wanted. I'd made a beeline for our local radio station.
Instead of going to school, I jumped on the bus to see what working life would be like - minus the wearisome responsibilities my parents were often complaining about.
Suffolk wasn't famous for much, aside from Ipswich football club (then managed by Bobby Robson) and the composer Benjamin Britten who'd lived on the other side of the county.
So the idea that Bury St Edmunds was home to something as glamorous as Saxon Radio made it impossibly seductive.
And it wasn't television news.
My father and his brother had both worked as cameramen for Anglia Television in Norwich, way up in Norfolk. As 'stringers', they'd be called out in the middle of the night to car accidents, discoveries of dead bodies and royal appearances at nearby Sandringham.
News was a little strange to me as a teenager: the working hours seemed ridiculously inconvenient, the equipment cumbersome and the 'HQ' too far away for my tiny mind to comprehend. Norwich might as well have been in a different country.
The imposing and sprawling Anglia House (above), close to Castle Hill in Norwich, was an intimidating and desperately masculine space - windowless, humourless and seemingly over-resourced. Walking round the building, quietly following my father as he delivered a VHS for transfer, I couldn't help wondering why there needed to be so many machines and so many special operators. And what was a union? Why did everyone have to be so grumpy? How could an editor get excited about a piece of footage showing nothing more than a road with a crumpled car on it?
When one of the tape operators asked me what I wanted to do - "I want to be a journalist" - his response was as damning as it appeared dismissive. "It's difficult," he said, "you probably won't make it."
No surprises then that I chose not to spend my work experience week at Anglia.
No, Saxon Radio beckoned. As the station was staffed by only a handful of people, I ended up going on assignments with a reporter (I'm sure corporate insurance policies would prevent a teenager from being driven around by a relative stranger in a car with a dodgy gearbox and with equally questionable skills operating the gear stick).
I wrote headlines for the hourly news bulletin - which were read out on air. I looked for stories. I suggested stuff. I interviewed people. I got to edit contributions for playout on air.
And I got my own demo out of it as well. Somewhere in the attic is a tape marked "Saxon Radio" with my pre-broken voice on it.
I caught the bug there. I lost it during my university years. But there was something in that early experience that showed me how live broadcasting was gripping; inspiring even. I still get a reminder of that bug when I set foot in the BBC's London newsroom. It remains with you. Untreatable.
The career path is sometimes not as straightforward as our imagination would have us believe. And for a while - before the explosion of internet self-publishing tools - I would have argued that not having spent 15 years doing the kind of thing I found I loved doing in my work experience was a sign of failure.
I don't think that now. Perhaps because, as one grows older, the naive definitions our childish minds insist upon to make sense of the world are supplanted by more complex interpretations.
What remains - or should, if you've not had it drummed out - is that child-like thrill which fuels passion and aspiration (two values required by any journalist).
And it's work like that being done for the BBC's School Report today - a countrywide curation of school children's efforts to produce their own news output - which reminds me of my own early experiment with work, and adulthood.
How many children enjoying the thrill of delivering their first piece to camera today will end up as the journalists of tomorrow?
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