The perils of the Test Match Special nightshift
"This is the BBC. We regret to inform you that our live outside broadcast from Australia is temporarily suspended due to technical reasons. Our engineers are working on the problem and we hope to restore commentary as soon as possible. In the meantime here is some music from Mantovani and his orchestra."
Those were the days. Instead now I come bungling in yelling as if in the Walmington-On-Sea home guard. "Don't panic. Lines down. I'll keep an eye on what's going on so we don't miss anything and the boys behind the screen will try and get the line back. No time for Mantovani. Oh begger. It's a drinks break what I am going to talk about now?".
If you were listening to Test Match Special on Friday night some time after midnight you'd have had the pleasure of my company for about eight minutes rather than Aggers, CMJ and the rest of the team in Adelaide.
'Highlights' of my stand-by commentary from last Friday
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The main pitfall of being the substitute commentator is trying to work out whether what we're watching on our monitors is live or replay. There is also the off-putting silence when the ball is struck to the boundary. I'm convinced hours of watching Alan Partridge serve me well at these times. I even get to stay in a travel tavern to get some sleep. Yes the staff know me by my first name and there is a service station near-by. Just can't seem to engage the fella behind the counter in conversation. There is the diet to die for. Nachos, fries, bacon sandwiches and sugary drinks seem the ideal evening meal ahead of a long night. Tea becomes breakfast and breakfast becomes supper. All very simple.
Let's be straight about this - when the line goes down it's serious - we get annoyed and frustrated. No one ever says "Well done" for filling but instead they grill me over what went wrong. That is usually impossible to answer. But almost always it's probably an electrical glitch which blow the circuits and boxes we broadcast from. No matter how much back up we have, if one goes, they all go. Then it's over to me. Thankfully never for long and it's not always us who takes the hit.
I am in no doubt, whatever the hours, I have an enviable job which I don't take for granted. I'm being paid to sit up and watch the Ashes. No working out how long can I stay up and still be able to function for the day job. My role involves being the middle man between the team in Australia and folks back here. I help out a bit with intervals and go off getting interviews in between matches.
There are three of us back in London. The trusted studio manager and the broadcast assistant are the real workers. Good sense of humour is required and I hope I'm not alone in thinking we have a good time. But just as they are about to fall off their chairs from being up all night they have the job of turning everything around and creating the day-long highlights and catch-up packages. They are a creative bunch and I'm chuffed so many of you are enjoying their work.