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I was Gordon the Gopher

Paul Smith

Head of Editorial Standards

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Going Live hosts Sarah Greene, Phillip Schofield and Gordon The Gopher

My name is Paul, and I was Gordon the Gopher.

It does feel a little like a confession every time I say it. Of course, the truth is that these days I am really Head of Editorial Standards and Independents for BBC Network Radio, and then, I was really the producer of the Broom Cupboard with Phillip Schofield on BBC One. I was neither the first Broom Cupboard producer, nor even the first person to operate that puppet, but I did look after Gordon right through to the end of Going Live in 1993.

‘Waggling’ Gordon was just one of the jobs the producer had to do in the small room - normally used by the BBC one announcer - that became the iconic base for children’s programmes on the BBC. None of us were puppeteers, and to be fair, no one had any idea how popular Phillip and Gordon would become. And we could be rubbish! So it came as quite a shock when mainstream entertainment shows in peak time, like Brain Conley’s ITV show, started to parody us. It was also incredibly exciting to get invitations from Spitting Image, Noel’s House Party and Graham Norton to appear. We even switched on some Christmas lights once, but I can’t remember where... wherever it was, we had arrived.

What made all of this particularly odd was that Phillip and I would work in a tiny office in TV Centre with a secretary to help with the (mountains) of post and no one would really have much to do with us. We’d run down to BBC One continuity every day with a pile of letters, props and a rough idea of what we were going to do, chuck out the announcer, switch on the lights and camera, and off we went. Live on BBC One. Unscripted, all made up. We played the graphics off a BBC Micro, and recorded the output on a series of 5 VHS tapes labelled Monday to Friday which got reused every week. (This is why all the tapes of the broom cupboard are owned by fans... there are none in the BBC archives).

I would chat to my line managers a little, and sometimes have a routine with the Deputy Head of BBC Children’s, to go through future plans, but I can’t honestly remember having any creative conversations beyond: ‘promote the programmes… don’t waste time on anything else'. I’m very proud of the part we played in putting Children’s BBC at the heart of daily life for children in the UK. It was like a club, and you could be a member just by watching.

It was innovative, even Gordon wasn’t a conventional children’s character with his tendency to get bored and yawn during interviews with pop stars like Bros, but as the 30th anniversary of the Broom Cupboard approaches, I know all of this was ‘of its time’.

Even in 2002 it was obvious how things had changed, and how hard making an impact had become. I was a big part of launching the new CBBC and CBeebies channels. Now, in the digital age, the solutions are even harder to find, but I have noticed something: the Vloggers on YouTube and Radio 1 look like they are sitting in a broom cupboard… hmm, now that is interesting.

Paul Smith is Head of Editorial Standards

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