Saturday, 13 August 2011

David, David, David...

What have David Starkey and Kenneth Clarke got in common? Is it that they both like the same sort of men? Is it that they were both in the reserve 11 for the 1996 European championship squad? Is it perhaps that for a time they were controlled by the same demon? No, the thing that they have in common is that they have both caused outrage on twitterbook.

If you haven't seen David Starkey and what Emily Maitliss described as "the moment" then here it is.

I don't think that my job is to wonder which is worse, racism or making light of rape, and I certainly don't think that the reaction will be the same when the dust has settled. Kenneth Clarke and David Starkey are different; one is a politician that has to be liked and the other makes a career of being stern and not caring what people think of him. Ken Clarke had to explain and chances are David Starkey won't.

I've interviewed David Starkey on a number of occasions and the first time I did I was terrified. I was familiar with his work on BBC Radio 4's 'The Moral Maze', a programme where he was positively encouraged to destroy people with his intellect. I had to talk to him on the occasion of The Queen distributing Maundy Money* at Gloucester Cathedral. I prepped like no one else could; hours were spent researching the political significance of the ceremony and how it is part of the pact between Ruler and Subjects. It was a live telephone interview and they are often the most difficult as there's no eye contact or body language to reinforce the verbal message. We started talking, he was assured and fluent, and I had a trill of nerves in my voice, however, I got through to him, he warmed me up and the moment that he laughed with me at a shared joke everything was fine.

I spoke to him on air a number of times after that and I always found him an intellectual challenge but very giving in the interview context.

What has surprised me about his faux pas (if such a delicate term can be used) is that it was an inelegant summing up of how he saw the situation. It seems that to full fill the needs of televisual brevity he missed out some very significant nuance; he gives us the answer without letting us see the working out. I bet he'd formed a pleasing sentence in the taxi to the studio and assumed that we'd certainly pick up the background.

In contrast Ken Clarkes 'Rape gaffe' was a product of him being hemmed into a corner by a sharp interviewer and a bad choice of words.

So what do you do if your organisation has said the wrong thing, either by design, omission, or idiocy? If it's by design and it all blows up in your face then you really need a strategic rethink, if it's by omission play the long game if your reputation is one of caring and sharing then explain immediately; if you're the industrial version of prickly David Starkey then sit back and curse the world for not understanding. The last one is easier to deal with, apologise hard and fast and then fire the idiot!


Tuesday, 9 August 2011


I need to give you a little bit of personal background before I start this blog because I'm going to sound like an intolerant psycho by the end of it.

I was born in 1974 and lived most of my young life in the mining village of Calverton in Nottinghamshire. My father was a policeman my mother is a chiropodist. We were not well off in the 70's.

When the 1980's came events took a strange turn. In early 1984 I was 9 and still at junior school. All of my contemporaries were the sons and daughters of miners and I was the son of a policeman. The miners' strike was not a happy time for anyone but as a 9 year old it was filtered through the childish lens of learnt partisanship. My friends felt hostility towards me because their families felt hostility towards the police and I was related to the police. It was all very simple.

From my upbringing in an environment where no one had much money I left and went to university, as my brother had done before me, and became a member of the middle classes. I am now a middle class white man (I was always white) concerned about mortgage rates and with a complete inability to complain in restaurants.

I needed to tell you this in the context of what I'm about to say. I have seen life from both sides and I think it's given me a rounded view of the concerns of a number of sectors of society; I like to think that I understand 'the man in the street' or more appropriately 'the riot in the street' and this is the point; phone in programmes talking about riots are pointless because The Public are idiots.

Seriously, The Public (note the capitalisation) are utter morons who jerk their knees and can't see further than their own noses. The Public are racist, partisan, and politically inept, they jump to conclusions and they either want hanging to be brought back or criminals given a lovely hug and sent on their way.

People however are wonderful intelligent beings with a wealth of experience and ideas, they love their families they strive to better themselves they paint pictures, write books and become aroma therapists.

People are brilliant stars.

The Public are idiots.

This is why phone-in programmes don't work.

They don't work because it's The Public that calls. Firstly no one normal has EVER phoned a radio station. No one. Normal people don't want to get involved. Every single caller to a radio station is a bit odd.

After a national crisis or during a time of difficulty broadcasters go running to the special phone-in as a reflection of what people are thinking and it's supposedly reflecting the thoughts of a nation. Shall we do some maths and work this out then? There may be 20 people on air on a national 1 hour phone in ('Call You And Yours' for example on BBC Radio 4) there are 65 million people in the country; you then have those callers (possibly 300 on a day like today) filtered by the person answering the phone. They will be thinking "will this person make good radio?" these callers are pitched to the producer who will make the final decision on getting them on air. The overriding thought through all of this is again "will this person make good radio?" The producer will give balance, they will give a representative selection of views but ultimately it's what makes good radio. Fine, the phone in is entertainment after all. As the youth would say, end of.

The producers of the next news strand will then be fed some of the views of these callers. Remember these callers are representing The Public and somehow these views will become 'overwhelming public opinion' or 'we've been hearing that...' These views will transubstantiate into news!

This tiny sample of people who are phoning a radio station become the only thing that the news and the politicians can focus on. Because they are now 'public opinion' but as we know The Public are numpties who are scared of everything and want to meet out summary violence.

It will always be the same until broadcasters decide that it's nice to let people phone in but ultimately the experts in the field are the people to listen to. They are people who aren't The Public.

Monday, 1 August 2011


This morning Stephen Fry and Ian McMillan were having a conversation about an authentic voice on Stephen Frys splendid radio 4 programme 'Frys English Delight'.

Authentic Voice (mp3)

Authenticity is difficult because it means different things to different observers. In this case Ian McMillan is talking about voice about position about context. His voice would be seen as authentic commentating on the North/South divide or on the quality of Poetry inspired by the industrial revolution. He would not sound like an authentic voice on Native American Rights or the Struggle of Feminism in the 1970's.

Authenticity can also be used when an organisation has to build a narrative. I've been doing some training for The Meningitis Trust, a wonderful organisation that supports people who have had their lives altered by Meningitis; they have authenticity when it comes to narrative because they have access Case Studies. There is nothing more authentic than hearing a mother speak of the day that her 3 year old lost her legs to septicaemia. This is an authentic narrative it as context and it has truth.

One of the major problems a government has is presenting difficult financial information because although they sound well informed and inteligent they have difficulty sounding 'authentic'. Governments aren't filled with ordinary people but they have to make decisions that affect the lives of ordinary people. George Osborne will one day be the 18th Baronet Osborne he has an estimated personal fortune of £4 Million (not including what legacy he may receive) and was christened Gideon. George Osborne is the man that tells us there isn't any money for the things we used to have (like universal health care, roads or benefits) and he will never sound authentic doing it.

This is a combination of factors; firstly he doesn't know what it's like to worry about money and secondly he doesn't sound like he knows what it's like to worry about money.

Most of the rest of the country worry about money but he doesn't.

It's strange how times have changed, because one of the most authentic chancellors of the last 20 years was Ken Clarke a cabinet colleague of Gideon's George's

So what can an organisation do when there is a story to tell? Think about who the messenger is; do they sound authentic delivering that message and are they the best person to deliver it?

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