Tag Archives: journalist

carry on campus (part 2)

(Post by George Cheyne of Glasgow – March 2021)

“We’re ready for your close-up now”…the words any telly wannabe longs to hear.

And, as it turns out, the very phrase that was NEVER uttered in my direction thanks to two monumental cock-ups.

I’m holding my hands up for one of them, it was my bad. But I was totally blameless for the other.

To get the first one out the way, I was offered the chance to do a screen test at Scottish Television for a continuity announcer.

Remember them? They were the on-screen presenters who sat there, usually late at night, and gave you the cheesy link between one programme and another.

The date for the screen test, my golden ticket to the big time, came through the post – but it clashed with a midweek cup tie I was due to play in.

There was only one thing for it. I called them up, explained about the game and said I could come along another time – as long as it didn’t interfere with my football, obviously. Forty years later and I’m still waiting on them calling me back.

So, yeah, lesson learned with that opportunity being knocked out the park. But the other epic fail wasn’t down to me, not in the slightest.

The chance came during my eight-week journalism block-release course at Edinburgh’s Napier College in 1978 when we teamed up with the students who were studying TV and film.

The idea, I seem to remember, was to mix both classes in “a positive way to showcase the respective skill sets”. In reality, we were thrown together for two back-to-back projects more in hope than expectation.

We had a scenario where would-be reporters were asking questions of would-be drama students while being filmed by would-be camera operators.

There were two drama students – one male, one female – who posed as police inspectors to read out statements about imaginary crimes and then we got to question them about it.

Readers of Part 1 of this post will be somehow reassured to know that these make-believe offences also took place in poor old Oxgangs, the crime capital of the western world.

It’s fair to say there was a lukewarm response to this shiny, bright initiative so the college hierarchy fell back on the one thing guaranteed to get everyone’s attention – a juicy bribe.

We were told the videos of the top two interviews would be sent away to be assessed by STV and the best one would be…cue drum roll here…selected for a screen test.

That did the trick. You couldn’t get near the mirror in the toilets as everyone got ready for their big interviews.

When it came to mine, I found myself face to face with a Juliet Bravo-type who was pretty confident with the cameras rolling a few feet away.

She read out the bare statement – about a drugs bust in Oxgangs – in a professional manner and stepped back, in character, to await my questions.

Okay, Juliet, there’s something you’re not telling me here. “You say a quantity of drugs were recovered from the house,” I venture, “What kind of drugs and what was the quantity?”

“It was 10 kg of heroin,” she replies.

Now we’re motoring. “And what’s the street value for that amount,” I ask.

“About £250,000.”

“You must be pleased. Now, you mentioned the two arrests made at the scene came at the end of a lengthy operation. How long?”

“It was nine months.”

“Would it be fair to say there was an undercover element to the operation?”

There was a flicker across Juliet’s face before she replied: “Yes, that’s correct.”

I was on to something, I just didn’t know what, so I asked: “How many officers were involved in that?”

“There was one at our end.” Now the flicker on Juliet’s face has been replaced by a deep red beamer.

I’m all over it now. “You say ‘our end’…where was the other end and how many were undercover there?”

“Erm, it was in Amsterdam and two officers were involved there. But I’m not at liberty…”

“How many arrests were made in Holland?”

“There were three, at two different locations, but I can’t really…”

“So it would be fair to say this joint operation has smashed an international drugs ring?”

“Erm, yes it would.”

Boom! Job done. A few more questions for Juliet and then I went off to write my story.

It turned out I was the only one to get the scoop on the Holland angle and was told on the QT that I was in pole position for the screen test prize if I did a decent job in the second assignment. Bring it on. But if I caught a break with Inspector Bravo helping me with my enquiries for the first interview, then my luck ran out when I landed an Inspector Clouseau clone for the second one.

Inept doesn’t begin to cover it. The hungover drama student forgot to bring his crib sheet with him, so there was no further information forthcoming about an imaginary armed bank robbery in Oxgangs.

I tried my damndest with a scatter-gun interrogation technique which started with me asking: “Was it sawn-off shotguns or revolvers?”

“I just know it was guns.”

“Okay, how much was taken in the robbery?”

“Err, I don’t know…I mean, I can’t say.”

“What about the make and colour of the getaway car?”

“Erm, it was light – or maybe dark – and probably foreign. Or not.”

“How many robbers were involved?”

“Just what I told you earlier in the statement.”

“You didn’t give a number.”

“Ah, well, there you go.”

I gave up right there. I’d been left with a story which had all the clarity of a man puffing on a giant Castella in the middle of a pea-souper and, needless to say, there was no screen test prize for me.

Probably for the best. You know what they say about having the perfect face for radio…

carry on campus (part 1)

(Post by George Cheyne of Glasgow – March 2021)

Almost three years after leaving school to learn how to be a journalist in a local newspaper some bright spark thought it would be a good idea if I went to college to learn how to be…a journalist.

We were the generation that had slipped through the net, the ones who had gone straight into the job from school, and they wanted to teach us a lesson.

Well, lots of lessons as it turned out. The zealots at the National Council for the Training of Journalists clearly thought our minds had wandered off after two to three years of doing the job, rounded us all up and sent us to the concentration campus at Edinburgh’s Napier College.

It was an eight-week block-release course designed to make sure we attained the, ahem, high standards set by the full-time course.

But we all knew what it was…a jolly. Word had been passed down the line that the block-release course was a box-ticking exercise which served only to teach us the journalistic basics we’d already mastered.

It meant our college experience was always going to be more public house than Animal House but, hey, there’s worse ways to spend two months away from home – and work.

We were paid our full wages – plus a few extra quid in expenses – to be taught how to do what we already did every day. No wonder we went to the boozer.

Yep, you couldn’t make it up – except that’s exactly what we did. In our newspaper practice class we made up stories, lots of them.

And if you ever wondered where the majority of life’s dramas happened in the spring of 1978, I can exclusively reveal it was the Edinburgh suburb of Oxgangs.

The make-believe bank robberies, gun sieges, train crashes, high-rise fires, bomb-squad call-outs, hostage-taking and car smashes we wrote about all took place in EH13.

That was the “where” of our stories to go alongside the “who, what, why, how and when” you always need for any news tale.

Mind you, I often wondered what the good residents of Oxgangs would make of all these dramas on their doorstep. Those house prices would take a right dunt, that’s for sure.

The sleepy suburb was turned into something of a war zone as we wrote up our dramatic stories after being fed the imaginary information.

There was a siege at Oxgangs library after a gunman walked in and threatened to kill the staff. Presumably he wasn’t happy with having to pay charges on his overdue book A Beginner’s Guide On How To Be A Gun Nut.

Then we had a blaze at the high-rise flats in Oxgangs which would have given the Towering Inferno movie a run for its money considering all the dramatic goings-on. There were brave firemen, brave neighbours and brave policemen all around.

Oxgangs Primary School was the setting for a full-scale evacuation after the janny discovered an explosive device in the boiler room. The bomb squad were called in as the kids were moved to a nearby football pitch to carry on their singing lessons. Another Hollywood influence there, methinks

We also had a train crash in Oxgangs which made the movie Runaway Train look like an episode of Thomas the Tank Engine. In our fictitious story the train – with dangerous chemicals on board – derails just before the station and ploughs into the school playground. That train story caused a bit of a stushie for three of us in the class after we took advantage of our lecturer Bill’s easy-going nature

Bill, who made his name covering the murder trial of serial killer Peter Manuel for the Daily Express in 1958, was a free spirit who insisted on treating his classroom like a newsroom.

This meant you could come and go as you please so long as you did the work. And it also meant a large window of opportunity opened up for the Three Amigos.

Our newspaper practice class lasted four hours from 1pm and the assignment for the train crash scenario was two-fold. Firstly, we had to hand in a 150-word story by 2pm and, secondly, a 250-word story by close of play.

We were given the information at the start of class to write up the first part – for an evening paper story – and were told we would be drip-fed other details for the second one.

It didn’t take a genius to work out we would have the best part of two hours after handing in the first story before we would even have to think about writing the second one.

What to do? A few surreptitious looks and nods between the three of us led us to the nearest pub which happened to be beside a Ladbroke’s bookies.

We had a wee racing syndicate going where I was the silent partner, entrusting the other two to make some wise investments on my behalf in the 2.30 at Plumpton and a few others to boot.

A good few pints and punts later, we headed back to college – richer for the experience in every way.

Our classmates were looking a bit frazzled and, judging by the amount of info slips on their desks, the drip-feed had become a torrent.

As we took our seats at 4pm, right on cue another slip was handed out telling us the train driver had died. A quick flick through the red-herring slips that had dropped while we were in the boozer didn’t change anything. Driver dies after train plunges into school playground kind of writes itself.

Anyway, the next day Bill takes the three of us aside before class to tell us we have the top marks for the train story.

Only thing is, he says, when I read them out in class you won’t be top three because it was pretty obvious you guys went to the pub and it’s not fair on the rest of them.

So much for Bill’s free spirit. But at least we got a free afternoon in the boozer thanks to our winnings.