BBC BLOGS - The Editors

In the gutter with the stars

Peter Hanington | 13:24 UK time, Monday, 5 January 2009

In recent years, our annual post explaining and apologising for the Today Programme guest editors has been little more than an excuse to namedrop and to tell a few bad jokes.

This year's will be no different. But we'd like to make one or two observations as well.

The Today programme logoObservation 1: One of the most interesting things about being involved with guest editors is watching two different worlds meet - or, in some cases, collide.

This year's editors were Zadie Smith, Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor, Jarvis Cocker, Sir Win Bishoff and Zaha Hadid. So we're talking about journalism (that's us) rubbing up against literature, the Catholic church, pop music, big banking and high end architecture (that's them).

And in most cases, we rubbed along fine. But of course there were occasional misunderstandings.

Zaha Hadid is a brilliant architect - the artist's architect some call her - and she's a delight to work with. But some of her ideas can be a little hard to get your head around if you haven't had the proper training. Talking architecture with her involved climbing a learning curve as steep as the Seagram building.

At one of our early meetings we sat at a tableful of prototypes for various Hadid projects currently in production.

TODAY PROGRAMME: Ah, that's beautiful. Is that the Abu Dhabi Performing Arts Centre?

ZAHA: No, that's a coffee pot.

TODAY: Oh. How about that - more kitchenware?

ZAHA No. That's the Vitra Fire Station in Germany.

TODAY: Right. What about this? The Glasgow Transport museum?

ZAHA: No, that's a shoe. Are there any other producers who might want to work on my programme?

And finally.

Zadie Smith is a writer. A clever writer. Writers sit in small silent rooms, alone, and write. We at the Today Programme are journalists. We sit in a big noisy room full of mice and interrupt each other every minute and a half. So when we asked Zadie for question ideas to help Evan (probably the only man we know who wouldn't actually need them) to interview the world's cleverest neuroscientist about rectilinear shapes, grouping, and gull chicks who like abstract art more than their mothers, instead of a few lazy, ill-informed jottings we get several hundred words of sculpted prose which could be published as an expert academic analysis of said clever neuroscientist.

If that weren't intimidating enough, Zadie wasn't just first in line when the brains were handed out. She also pushed to the front of the height, kindness and general comeliness queue. It was too much for some of our producers.

This is a transcript of an early meeting between Zadie and the Today production team:

ZADIE: The interesting thing about Obama's oratory is that he uses all the classic Greek ingredients: pathos, logos and, er...

TODAY PROGRAMME: (excitedly) Porthos... no, Aramis.

ZADIE: I think those are two of the three musketeers. Ethos. That's it. Ethos.

TODAY PROGRAMME: Ethos, yes. Ethos. Can I marry you?

So that's our first observation and I can't really remember what Observation 2 was, apart from possibly that an incredible amount of work goes into these programmes from quite a few people (special mentions for Helen Margolis and Tom Colls - all the others, you know who you are, thank you).

Next year, you ask? We're already planning it: JD Salinger and Robert Mugabe are interested.

by Peter Hanington and Dan Clarke. Peter Hanington is assistant editor, Today programme.

Peter Hanington is assistant editor of the Today programme.

Be our guest...

Peter Hanington | 10:16 UK time, Thursday, 20 December 2007

The Today programme logoEvery year it's the same thing. People find out you're working on Today's "guest editor" programmes and the questions start.

This year's crop are particularly illustrious so the questions are a little different. Most years we just get asked: Have you got a home number for Thom / Monica / Zac / Bono?

This year we have a Nobel Prize-winning scientist, a former spy chief, one of Britain's most eminent historians, one of Britain's most successful musicians and this year's listener editors, a bunch of cops from Wales. So the questions are slightly higher rent.

todayguests.jpgFor instance:

• Is it true that Damon Albarn uses complex maths when composing his music?

• Did Sir Martin Evans really have that Nobel-winning Eureka moment while listening to the Pussycat Dolls?

• Has Peter Hennessy written more books than the average Today producer has read?

• Did Stella Rimington kill people?

I'll give you the answers at the end. Please try not to skip ahead.

But despite the fact that they've all got brains that could boil water, this year has been the most fun we've had since the whole thing started four years ago.

Highlights so far? Damon Albarn, the uncrowned table tennis king of the pop world, playing against some of our 2012 Olympic hopefuls.

Sir Martin Evans, fresh from scooping the Nobel Prize, kicking back at a hotel made of ice with the King and Queen of Sweden.

Peter Hennessy proving that if Today falls off air Trident submarine captains assume Britain has been destroyed and so fire their weapons. (And that if BBC Three goes off air they consider it safe to return to port.)

The police team mishearing our request to hit us with a programme teaser by hitting us with a pre-programmed Tazer.

But most exciting of all is Dame Stella Rimington. Here at Today we're used to working with powerful older woman. Many of us have dealt at close quarters with the likes of Sue MacGregor and Anna Ford. Some of us have even kept our composure. But Stella is something else. There's something so, well, secret about her. She's not just hard to get... she's hard to find.

Richard Knight and Daniel Clarke are working with Dame Stella. I overheard one of Daniel's conversations with her. In fact I recorded it. I've seen Spooks. You can't be too careful. It went like this:

"Hello Daniel?"
"It's me"
"I think you know who."
"Oh I get it. Very mysterious. Are you trying to seduce me Mrs Robinson....I mean Rimington?"
"Of course not, and call me Helen. Meet me by the penguin pool at twelve hundred tomorrow." "Cool, shall I carry a copy of the Herald Tribune?"
"If you want"
"Great. And I'll wear a brown trilby and green socks and a pink buttonhole.
"Whatever floats your boat. I know what you look like."
"How come?"
"I know a lot about you. And your family and your friends and your regular visits to the Turkish Baths in Bayswater."
"Wow. You're good."

It's all gone a little better since then and you can hear the result of all the hard work on Boxing Day.

Finally, the answers to those questions we get asked: 1. Yes; 2. Of course not; 3. Probably; and 4. No but she hurt somebody's feelings once.

Today at Glastonbury

Peter Hanington | 09:10 UK time, Friday, 22 June 2007

The Today programme logoThe current editor of the Today Programme is easily the hippest Today Programme editor ever. I'm not saying that just because he's the first editor to let us broadcast from Glastonbury but for lots of other reasons too, and I'll come back to those.

Under previous Today administrations the question: "Can we do a programme from Glastonbury?" has met with a range of responses, none of them positive.

today_glasto2.jpg.jpgWhen we asked Kevin Marsh, the reply went something like: "Glastonberry? Ah yes... same family as the Loganberry? Generally thought to be derived from a cross between the Red Antwerp raspberry and the American blackberry Aughinburgh. Accidentally created in 1880 in Santa Cruz by the American lawyer and horticulturist James Harvey Logan I believe..." He then spoke at length about various berries but nobody here understood what he was talking about so we left it.

Rod Liddle's response was more concise....his full answer cannot be reprinted in a quality blog like this but it went something like "Go completely away and stick your rude thing up something else even ruder." The problem wasn't that Rod didn't care about Glastonbury, more that he didn't want his staff turning up in the Healing Field and cramping his style. He also said that taking Today to Glastonbury would just "drive up the price of black and alert the filth" but nobody here understood what he was talking about so we left it.

Today presenter Carolyn QuinnAnyway, this year things were different. Ceri Thomas embraced the idea immediately and with passion. Well, his voicemail did... it said: "Leave a message and I'll get back to you soon" and as far the planning desk is concerned that's a big Yes.

By the time he'd got back from holiday, Carolyn Quinn had already bought a Cath Kidston cagoule and so it was too late to turn back.

Why Carolyn you ask? Why not John Humphrys? Well, John wanted to go, and in fact he'd been invited to camp backstage with Gordon Brown and the Arctic Monkeys but as you probably know he has a severe mud allergy and so as soon as the long term weather forecast came through it was clear that that wouldn't work.

Today presenter Carolyn QuinnCarolyn was the obvious second choice….Not a lot of people know this, but Lemmy out of Motorhead is Carolyn's godfather and she was regularly dangled on Lemmy's knee as a young girl… no one knows why Lemmy was dressing as a young girl at the time but I guess that's his business.

On top of that Carolyn had seen "We Will Rock You" 37 times and she can play "Whole Lotta Rosie" on the kazoo, so she seemed the obvious choice.

The Today team is camped in the Circus Performers' Field… come and see us if you can… we're just past the dwarves, first left at the Bearded Lady… look for the VW van with a "Never Trust Anyone Under 50" bumper sticker.

Peace and Love.

(Guest) editor at work

Post categories:

Peter Hanington | 13:23 UK time, Thursday, 28 December 2006

Guest editors, unlike small puppies, are not for life. They're just for Christmas. And I think it's probably just as well.

The Today programme logoDealing with this year's crop has been an absolute pleasure, of course. But the combined enthusiasm of Yoko Ono, Zac Goldsmith, Rowan Williams, Clive Woodward and Allan Leighton - not to mention a globe of excitable geographers (is that the correct collective noun?) - have pushed me and senior producer Richard Knight close to the edge.

Take Zac Goldsmith. Now come to think of it, he is quite a lot like a puppy - a gorgeous little golden retriever judging by the way the women in the Today Programme office react to the very mention of his name. Educated, sophisticated and - let's face it - worldly, the women of Today have been asking us for weeks whether Zac was planning to come in for his guest edit. We told them all yes. So perhaps we shouldn't have been surprised when so many turned up for his programme wearing fewer clothes and a lot more perfume.

Being Zac must be a bit like being the Queen - but while she smells fresh paint wherever she goes, he has to endure clouds of Chanel Allure.

You can get too close and start to lose your news judgement. Picture the scene in the studio the other morning as some breaking news threatened to push one of the guest-edited items off the end of the running order. I reacted badly. "I don't care how many American Presidents have died! Yoko asked for a piece on flightless birds and she's damn well going to get it!"

Fortunately calmer heads prevailed and - as in previous years - I was dragged from the studio and locked in the disabled toilet till the programme ended.

Today's guest editors

Peter Hanington | 09:41 UK time, Thursday, 21 December 2006

The Today programme logoThe Today Programme planning team is a highly secretive unit. Their work is often described as the black ops of radio. They're particularly dangerous at Christmas when they take on five guest editors.

This year's editors include Yoko Ono, Dr Rowan Williams, Zac Goldsmith and Sir Clive Woodward - so discretion is a must.

However the the team has decided to release a few clues about the editors' content just to heighten the sense of anticipation.

todayeditors.jpgAs you will see, their clues take the form of a popular Christmas carol and should be sung aloud to the tune of Away in a Manger:

This Christmas no danger
of a bid for John Krebs
"This Show must be stranger"
That's what Yoko said

And Bluer and Greener
Said Zac in two minds
With discipline said Woodward
Throughout the back line

And when we asked Rowan
"What would Jesus do?"
He said "Drop Thought, shoot Humphrys and
Merry Christmas to you".

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