Victoria Derbyshire wins the Nick Clarke interview award
Congratulations to Victoria Derbyshire who's just been recognised as having conducted the best broadcast interview of the year. Victoria picked up the Nick Clarke award, for her interview with a man called Peter Bacon, at the Times Literary Festival in Cheltenham on Saturday. The award was set up in honour of the brilliant World At One presenter, who died of cancer in November 2006.
It was back in April that Victoria spoke to Peter Bacon. He had just been found not guilty of raping a criminal lawyer who'd claimed she was too drunk to have consented to sex with him. The interview was one of a number of exclusives our programme has managed to secure over the last year, often competing against megabuck newspaper deals. By contrast, we rarely pay any of our guests (and when we do it's only to cover their travel costs). Even if we wanted to, we couldn't begin to compete with the tens, and sometimes hundreds, of thousands of pounds that newspapers pay. So how do we persuade them to appear on our programme?
Some of the people we want to interview have already had their fingers burnt by various sections of the media. That was the case with Peter Bacon. During the trial, details of his case were written about in graphic and sordid detail. He agreed to one paid-for interview with the Daily Mail and then said he would do no more. But we knew that his story struck a chord with a number of our listeners and raised some interesting issues which we wanted to explore on the programme (not least anonymity of the alleged victim but not the suspect; trial by media; excessive drinking etc.). And so began the long process of winning his trust.
Initially we spent time talking to his lawyer, explaining the nature of the programme, why we were keen to speak to him and what we hoped to achieve by interviewing him. His lawyer said she'd be amazed if he'd do any more interviews, so adamant was he that he wanted to put the case behind him. In the meantime, we spoke anonymously to the woman who'd accused Mr Bacon of raping her. We urged him to listen back to the interview. And this is where Victoria's interviewing style helps. Victoria never shies away from asking difficult questions, but she does so in a fair, firm and polite manner. She's never abrasive or rude, she doesn't try to trip people up or humiliate them. She's genuinely interested in what people have to say. And she listens (which is more of a skill than you'd think). As Kevin Marsh (a former Editor of the Today programme and one of the judges on the Nick Clarke award) noted, Victoria's style is "direct, precise and courteous" and at no time does she "seek to steer the listeners' emotions or opinions... while at the same time making crisp and well measured interventions".
After Peter Bacon heard that interview he called me, and though he was still initially reluctant to speak on air, he said he felt more reassured that we wouldn't "stitch him up". We had a glimmer of hope. We agreed to speak again. Half a dozen or so 'phone calls later, some of them lasting over half an hour, he agreed to come on our programme. What followed was one of the best pieces of radio I've ever heard.
Perhaps the last word should go to Peter Bacon. I rang him to tell him about the award (he was genuinely pleased to hear about it - which was very generous of him) and asked him how he felt after speaking to us. "I was so pleased after the interview. I've listened back to it hundreds of times; and Victoria really managed to put me at ease. I've no regrets about doing it at all." You can listen to it yourself here:
The Nick Clarke award also recognised the wealth of talent at 5 Live - Nicky Campbell and Stephen Nolan were both on the shortlist, along with Radio 4's Jenni Murray and Fergal Keane and ITN's Tom Bradby. Other people who'd entered include Alex Thompson, Gary Gibbon, Faisal Islam and Lindsey Hilsum from Channel 4 News, Alan Johnston, Andrew Neil and Jon Manel. Mark Damazer, the Controller of Radio 4, who presented Victoria with the award said: "I am delighted that we attracted so many quality entries - many from outside the BBC - and add my many congratulations to Victoria Derbyshire and her team. This award recognises that there are many different ways to elicit a truth - and Victoria's interview is a fine example of the art."
Louisa Compton is Editor of the Victoria Derbyshire show on BBC Radio 5 live