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My nerve-wracking night on The Culture Show's Samuel Johnson Prize special

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Pauline Law | 14:21 UK time, Thursday, 1 July 2010

If you're growing weary of the World Cup and tiring of tennis, then you could try the Culture Show Special on the BBC Samuel Johnson Prize (SJP) as an antidote to this summer of sport.

As far as I know there's no wall chart available detailing the group stages of the SJP so the programme, presented by Andrew Graham-Dixon, offers a comprehensive guide to the six shortlisted books battling for glory, as well as featuring the nail-biting final.

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The Samuel Johnson Prize, now in its 12th year, is the equivalent of The Booker Prize for non-fiction books.

Recent recipients have included Kate Summerscale with The Suspicions of Mr Whicher and Philip Hoare's Leviathan - both of which were catapulted into the best seller charts.

Winning the prize not only makes you famous but £20,000 richer so there's all to play for at the award ceremony in the Royal Institute for British Architecture where the judges, chaired by economist Evan Davis, will announce this year's winner.

As a topical arts magazine programme we often film close to transmission but this week we really are cutting it fine as the ceremony doesn't even start till 7pm tonight.

We'll be filming live at the event then I'll be making a mad dash across London to edit the results into the programme for its 11.20pm slot on BBC Two.

Making The Culture Show is a real team effort but as series producer it's my job to bring the different elements of the programme together in the edit suite and work with our presenter Andrew on the script that links it all up seamlessly - well that's the aim.

I really like the excitement of a fast turnaround magazine show but tonight could be slightly nerve wracking. Basically if Newsnight seems to be running a little long you'll know I'm still frantically putting the finishing touches to the show.

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Fortunately we've already filmed with the shortlisted authors and the team have worked furiously to find just the right people to interview them.

As the writers are, rather inconveniently, spread across the globe we've had to set up filming in locations from Boston to Beijing, where the BBC's China correspondent Damian Grammaticas spoke to author Barbara Demick about her moving book on the lives of North Korean citizens, Nothing to Envy.

We tried to find people who have a real relationship to a book's subject or form. So, for example, writer and journalist Lynn Barber, who's achieved great success with her memoir An Education speaks to Luke Jennings about committing his personal memories to the page in Blood Knots.

She says of writing her own, "I thought it would be a doddle...but when I got down to it, it was really difficult and I don't think I particularly pulled it off. That's why I'm so envious of what Luke Jennings has achieved."

We also knew Peter Snow was a British history enthusiast so we invited him to talk to Jenny Uglow about her riveting take on the Restoration and Charles II - A Gambling Man.

Previous Samuel Johnson Prize winner Philip Hoare stands in front of a whale mural, on the BBC Arena show about his novel, Leviathan.

We were delighted that he was our first interviewer to confirm when he called to say, "Hello, I'm Peter Snow and I believe I'm one of your chaps".

There's always a worry you won't get people to agree to take part in your programme in time but once we had his name on the board others followed in quick succession so many thanks Mr Snow.

Hopefully The Culture Show might encourage you to check out one or two of this year's shortlisted books - I can guarantee more enthralling passages between the pages than we've seen on the South African pitches and there's no doubting these finalists passion and enthusiasm for their subject.

Meanwhile, we've just got time to catch our breath before we pack our bags for Edinburgh to cover this year's Festival.

I think that's what I love most about working on The Culture Show - every programme is a new adventure, we get to meet lots of fascinating people and to work on a vast range of subjects from comedy to contemporary art and books to ballet. I still haven't met David Bowie though, so I guess a girl can't have everything.

Pauline Law is series producer for The Culture Show.

The BBC Samuel Johnson Prize For Non-Fiction first airs at 11.20pm on Thursday, 1 July on BBC Two and BBC HD.

To find out times of all future episodes of The Culture Show please visit the programme's upcoming episodes page.



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