I’ve worked as a Producer on the Jeremy Vine Show for more than three years now, and I love it. Great team, great presenter and great network. But…it’s a big network. Radio 2 is a beast. And our programme reaches more than seven million people a week. I love pulling together stories and booking guests for it, I love reporting for it, but I’ve never aspired to present it. So what happened last week was…something else.
Because…what happened last week never usually happens. And so I was asked to write an account of it for the BBC-staff magazine-thing. I reproduce it below:
Jeremy arrived at work and had lost his voice somewhat. It wasn’t too bad, but weakened shortly before the programme went to air and it was too late to arrange cover. His first links were croaky but fine – his enormous energy kept things going. It got worse though – he’d really lost his voice.
The Editor (my boss) Phil Jones’s phone was going off constantly. I knew he was consulting with management and Jeremy about continuing the programme but, with nearly an hour gone and no replacement on the scene, I presumed Jeremy would carry on.
I was getting on with my usual job for this time of day, filtering listener comments through to Phil, and lining up guests and callers on the phone to go on air.
Aside from my occasional reporting duties, the last time I’d been behind a mic on air was more than three years ago, when I’d occasionally cover-present a thing or two at BBC Radio Lincolnshire. So what happened next was something of a surprise.
At 12:57, I asked Jeremy if he wanted another cup of hot water to go with his honey, lemon and Lemsip so I was just about to nip out to the coffee machine. (NB. You’re NEVER too senior to make the drinks).
At 13:00, Radio 2’s Head of Programmes turned up at the studio door and Phil nipped out for a quick chat.
At 13:01 they were in the studio, in conversation with Jeremy.
At 13:03 Phil popped his head round the studio door and said: “Tim – can you come in here?”. Sure, great, perhaps Jeremy wanted another cup of hot water after all. Phil continued: “You’re doing the next hour.” Oh. Right.
Unusually, I had not been in the morning meeting that day nor read any of the scripts or briefings. And I hadn’t even produced an item because I’d been working on a programme for the festive period. The Jeremy Vine Show gets 7.1m listeners a week. So I took a very, very, deep breath and grabbed my bottle of water.
Jeremy pointed me to the presenter’s chair and showed me the main faders I’d need (fortunately our superb studio manager Gareth took care of the music and jingles so I didn’t need to fully learn to drive this desk in less than one minute).
At 13:05 Jeremy pressed play on a song out of the news and left the studio. He was gone. That moment was like being strapped into a rollercoaster – and I don’t like rollercoasters – with no way of stopping it. The music track was counting down to the time at which I had to open the microphone and say something live on Radio 2.
The hour was surreal. It flew by. The first item involved speaking to listeners who had recently been bereaved and how they would get through Christmas. So not exactly…simple. Thankfully, I had a wonderful guest in the studio, Barbara Want, who did most of the talking to callers. Then there was a fairly ‘straightforward’ story about the UK’s butterfly population; I guess I had a relatively easy ride. As ever, Phil was superb at keeping me straight and producing it every step of the way.
By the end of the hour I’d relaxed and was able to fully enjoy introducing the news jingle: “This is BBC Radio 2”. As a radio geek: WOW.
Writing a quick account of what my ad-hoc presenting debut on Radio 2 was like. Introducing news jingle was best pic.twitter.com/U7pcaUanXp
— Tim Johns (@timoncheese) December 21, 2015
I got out of the studio, instantly exhausted, to find my phone and Twitter feed had pretty much exploded. My colleagues were very nice about it all. I guess the only thing you don’t want to do on your Radio 2 mainstream presenting debut is to cock it up. Which I think I avoided.