(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.
“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…