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Cafe Highlights w/c 31 Oct

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Clare English Clare English | 15:20 UK time, Friday, 4 November 2011

The beauty of live broadcast is that things will change as you speak... or even before that. Monday's Book Café was a case in point. We'd fixed up Jeanette Winterson as our first guest, to talk about her new book Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?, the true story behind her debut novel, Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit. The second tranche of memoirs was terrific fun to read albeit with dashes of sadness, so I was really looking forward to Jeanette giving the show a good kick start.

Ten minutes before we went live, my producer Serena looked ashen faced; Jeanette hadn't shown up at the appointed studio, and she should have done, as a taxi had been booked to take her there. Was she stuck in traffic, kidnapped perhaps? The minutes whizzed by (they always do as transmission time looms!) and with two minutes to go, still no Jeanette but at least we had an explanation. She'd walked to the studios, (saving the BBC money for the cab, bless her!) and had gone to the wrong place. Cue frantic re-jigging of scripts and Serena pacing the cubicle, scratching her head as she hatched PLAN B. We could do the interview on the phone? Always a downer as the line quality varies. Or maybe... it was a long shot but Jeanette might just be able to access the only little studio still in operation where she was. A decision was made; we would start off with our Horror/ Hallowe'en item. Thankfully BBC Merseyside had put our guest Ramsey Campbell in place in good time and he rose to the occasion - cool as a cucumber.

To be honest, no one would have been any the wiser of our last minute changes if I hadn't blabbed to you now. In the end, Jeanette made it in time for third place on the running order. That kind of chaos reminds me of my days working in news, where most plans went up in smoke at some point during the broadcast. In a perverse way, I actually relish the chaos and an eerie calm descends on me. Lucky my producer and engineer share similar dispositions. The point is, broadcasting is neither rocket science nor brain surgery but you DO have to speak when the green microphone light flashes. Instantaneous decisions have to be made, even if they prove to be wrong in the end. Freezing is not an option unless you like the tumbleweed sound of " dead air".

Tuesday's Culture Café proved much smoother to execute. We were majoring on three theatrical productions that had something to say about the significant stage posts in our life cycle - the teen years, middle age, and old age. What a cast we had in our Pacific Quay studio (rare to get three people in one place at the best of times!) First there was the artistic director of NTS, Vicky Featherstone (although she appeared with seconds to spare...memories of the Winterson episode!) there was the preternaturally youthful looking actor David Hayman and sitting alongside him, writer, director John Retallack - three big beasts from Scottish theatre if ever I've seen them. They ignited the discussion and jumped in with observations and comments on each other's work. With that calibre of lineup you know that there will never be dead air. We could have kept going for another hour fuelled by their enthusiasm. Emerging from the studio after such a show leaves you on a high; you forget that things can go wrong. And they do.

The very next day I was back in beautiful Inverness (I am quite smitten!) standing in for Pennie Latin on the Kitchen Café. As ever at one fifteen, I waited for John Beattie and Co to do the live handover... you know, the usual banter about what's coming up next. But it was obvious there was some kind of comedy meltdown in the Glasgow studio as Judith (uber babe weather gal) took a fit of the giggles and blamed it on Bill Whiteford pulling a face. (Pull the other one, Judith!) The contagion spread so by the time Mr Beattie tried to ask me about sausages, you can guess how febrile the atmosphere was. Just try saying SAUSAGES without a smirk. After a tremulous innuendo laden start, the rest of the Kitchen Café stayed on course, until the muppet presenter mis-calculated how much time was left and overshot the runway by ten seconds. We do try to get out of our live shows BANG ON TIME at 59.50 .Sadly, I took us ten seconds beyond and had to babble a swift and sweaty goodbye. Now, I know ten seconds doesn't sound like a major incident, but my pride was hurt. I've never busted the clock before. Ah well, we live (and broadcast) and learn.


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