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Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Monday 22/11/2004Hats off to Dixons, who pulls off this week's most stunning PR stunt. By the simple expedient of dropping VCRs from their shelves and telling news organisations about it on a Sunday evening, the company has got its name into every news bulletin in the UK for the rest of the day.

Monday 22/11/2004
Hats off to Dixons, who pulls off this week's most stunning PR stunt. By the simple expedient of dropping VCRs from their shelves and telling news organisations about it on a Sunday evening, the company has got its name into every news bulletin in the UK for the rest of the day. There's comprehensive coverage abroad to boot.

Dixons is good at this trick -- earlier this year, it decided not to stock Manhunt, a controversial videogame, and got a lot of publicity by putting out a press release. Whatever the real reason behind the video recorder cull, and some have suggested that because they're now so cheap and reliable there's no income to be had from selling extended warranties, everyone's happy to take the company at its word.

I'm one of the beneficiaries of this -- if getting up at 5am on a Monday morning for thirty seconds of telly saying 'yeah, there's all this digital stuff these days' is a good thing. This is my first trip to the BBC studio in the new Stock Exchange. Both the studio and the building are disconcertingly strange, especially at that time in the AM: the studio has a projector wall behind the presenter which at first looks like a static picture of London from the Exchange roof. It isn't -- it's a looped video of the daytime, so the dark and empty streets I've just come through are shown as bustling in the sunshine.

The sense of being suspended in a virtual world gets stronger. I'm parked behind a glass desk while the presenter strides around running through all manner of details for the broadcast -- he's a forceful chap, locked in frank discussions with the voices in his ear. Without warning, indeed without any sort of noticeable transition, he segues into the transmission itself and what I thought was a rehearsal turns out to be live to a nation still coming to terms with Monday.

Guests are the lowest form of life in TV studios, especially with news programmes. They can't be entirely controlled, get in the way and add an extra chunk of randomness into what is already a complex and error-prone activity. Like house guests, they can also witness family troubles which you'd much rather keep private: in this case, a clip was run at the wrong time. Happiness was not forthcoming -- but at least this time someone offered me a cup of coffee and saw me out. There have been times when an entire studio has gone into an angry post-mortem huddle after some particular nasty, leaving me standing to one side wondering whether I should look at the ceiling or my toes. And, after a while, whether I should just wander off into the warren of corridors in Television Centre and run the risk of never seeing daylight again.

The moral of this story is: if you do find yourself being interviewed on telly, don't worry about doing everything right. They expect you to behave as a normal human being: it's what's going on with the rest of the team that's taking up most head space. There's almost nothing you can do that'll worry them half as much as what their colleagues are getting up to.