Newsweek Scotland: turning 60
A different kind of blog this week and it may not be to your taste. Let me explain. When I started with the BBC, news presenters tended to be a pretty po-faced bunch. There was an inbuilt BBC formality and although there were rebellious souls - Neville Garden and Mike Russell together on GMS for example - a certain sang-froid was still expected. That began to break down as new talent came in. Perhaps the most notable of the new breed was Eddie Mair, still for me, the best current affairs presenter on radio. One reason that I myself was put behind a mike on GMS many years ago was a studied irony that sounded less deferential at times and, I think, for my lack of fear in revealing details - little ones - about my life. This is regarded as a gentle hook for the audience. It leaves the impression that a listener actually knows you a little. You can easily take this too far. I remember a woman telling me she expected me to give her the news, not to pretend I was her friend. That lesson is particularly true on an early morning show where many listeners will still be in bed! So you have strike a balance by not thinking it's all about you. It isn't. And in radio the best tool of all is, obviously, use of the voice to subtly change tone according to the gravity of the story or the levity of the occasion. It is sometimes suggested the audience craves more information about the people they listen to so they can imagine what motivates them and informs them. So here's the bit you might not like.
Next week is a big one for me. I turn 60 and I will celebrate in Ardnamurchan with wife and family. Like many baby boomers, I shrug off advancing years as I've also coasted the 60's wave of optimism and good times. I really try not to count, preferring to recall my favourite year when I was 19 and still at my lanky-limbed, mop-haired, spunkiest, Rolling Stone best. But 60 does have to be marked. However this birthday is also the 10th anniversary of the death from cancer of my first wife, Alison. I still can't read that phrase without remembering the horror and fear of those times. She died early on the morning of my 50th birthday and the two events are linked inextricably. Nothing has affected me more than her death and nothing prepared me for finding a new wife and having a new family so rapidly afterwards. So instead of presenting this Saturday I will be heading up the A82 to the Corran ferry and along the shores of Loch Sunart. The new family will meet up with the grown up daughters of me and Alison and we will hike the three miles to the beach where her ashes are scattered. It will be a time of reflection and redemption. I wrote about Alison's death once 10 years ago and this is the first time since. It's why I suggested at the start that this might not be to your taste but for what it's worth, nothing has influenced me as much or done more to shape the man I am today than losing her and finding someone new. What it teaches you is that beneath the cynicism and behind the front we present to the world - whether behind a microphone or not - we have an enormous capacity both to come to terms and to love. Does it influence my broadcasting? I don't know. I suppose like all these things, it's the listener who decides. I hope this is not too much like Thought for the Day.
Do keep listening. Derek