Speaking as a Member of the Public
Man on the Street. Tom, Dick and Harry. The Man on the Clapham Omnibus. The Voice of the People. For decades, "ordinary people" have been stopped in the street to give interviewers their opinions on diverse subjects in the ubiquitous format of the vox pop. Why?
Comedian and writer Danny Wallace revisits decades of television and radio archives to listen again to the multitude who happened to be walking down the street when a reporter needed a random opinion about soap flakes or capital punishment.
It all began in 1930s America, with the programme Vox Pop in Houston, Texas where a presenter literally ran a microphone cable out of the radio station window to interview people on the street. However, the technique didn't become a regular feature of British broadcasting until the 1960s. Now, it's impossible to turn on the news without hearing at least one neatly randomised set of opinions from members of the Great British Public.
Danny considers why the vox pop is so omnipresent, what "the public" actually means and why we need the views of so many ordinary people on radio and TV. BBC voxing queen Esther Rantzen looks back on the thousands of people she buttonholed for That's Life. Comedian Charlie Higson considers why comedy ran away with the format. Deputy Director of BBC News Fran Unsworth makes a serious case for the use of seemingly random opinions in news programmes. Deputy Political Editor James Landale, tells Danny about a strange vox he conducted that recently went viral. We also hear from Greg Packer, native New Yorker who's been voxed so many times that the Associated Press had to ban him from being quoted.
Produced by Colin McNulty
A Testbed production for BBC Radio 4.