ImageDay three, a day of national treasures. I thought I would record some of the sights along my journey from the front door on Portland place to my desk. Today I came in through the old broadcasting house entrance, a fine example of 1930s power architecture. Two floors up and along a corridor I pass photo portraits of key characters in UK broadcasting history. Alec Guinness, John Peel, and Oliver Read are among them. But, in view of Wimbledon, one stood out today … Cliff Richards adorns the stairwell just before you reach the Radio 3 desks. Both Cliff and Radio 3 are national treasures, of course. So their inclusion here.

ImageOn reaching the Science Radio floor I discovered, as expected, that I was a desk refugee, with no-where to park myself for the day. Eventually I found a home. Soon after another visitor for the day came in to occupy the place opposite me .. Joan Bakewell, preparing for an upcoming broadcast. So, a holy trinity of national treasures to make my day complete.

Illuminated by their shining light, I set to work on my task for today: to help come up with guests and a conversation to form part of the final episode of Material World, going out live tomorrow at 4:30pm. At this point I discovered, with annoyance, the problem of getting appropriate academics to (i) answer their phone, (ii) answer their e-mails or (iii) agree to subject themselves to live discussion on the steam radio. When two excellent candidates eventually agreed to accede to my request I felt a small degree of elation. Message learnt – do try and be helpful when the beeb come knocking at your door.

I dropped by the folk on the news online section a little later, just after George Osborne had announced his comprehensive spending review. Science spending will be held level for recurrent spending but boosted for capital spending over the next couple of years. The result is probably as good as one might expect, but still represents a real terms contraction on the operating budget. The report mentioned some specific items of capital spend, including the UK space plane and its SABRE (synergistic air breathing rocket engine): a fact I managed to spot before the news desk did, to my competitive satisfaction (;-))

The afternoon was spent trying to decide how tomorrow’s Materials World piece, a conversation slot, might pan out. It involves writing a script with possible questions and potential answers, so that Gareth Mitchell, tomorrow’s presenter, will be prepared for whatever may occur. The whole process seems highly uncertain to me. Fingers crossed etc.


Day 2: all we hear is Radio Ga Ga

One of the aims of the Media Fellowships scheme is to push you out of your comfort zone. I guess that is supposed to refer to the media fellows, not the professionals whose offices they are implanted into, nor the audiences that get to enjoy the fruits of their labours.


I moved beyond my comfort zone and into a studio today. But put an audience, even a virtual unseen unknown future audience, in front a lecturer/professor and you move into dangerous territory. The experience was much better fun than I expected, but I can’t help feeling I went into free fall monologue … a recorded piece for the BBC World Service radio show “Science in Action”.

My interviewer was not across the desk from me, instead he was an ocean and a continent away in Los Angeles. It meant that the interview recording was done at our tea time, his breakfast. So, I had the day to bone up on my new area of “expertise”.

I couldn’t help but remember my father’s definition of an expert: ” ‘Imagex’ is an unknown quantity, and ‘spurt’ is a drip under pressure”. I do hope I did slightly better than that, I leave it for you to decide, I don’t know if I dare listen to the result myself … I think it comes out on Thursday, and will be available online on iplayer at some stage after that, I guess.

Other aspects of life: Logistically, today was a great improvement on yesterday. No slippage in schedules, no spillage in drinks 🙂

… meanwhile, in my head, all I hear is radio ga ga.

Day 1 in the house

Alarm set, travel plans sorted, clothes selected for the day. I am ready for anything the BBC can throw at me … here we go: day one of life as a media fellow.

Get an early train and have plenty of time for my 10:15 appointment at New Broadcasting House (NBH) reception. Seems like a plan. Do I need a jumper and a jacket? It’s mid-summer, but certainly temperate. Let’s not take chances, jumper and jacket it is. That way I can store all my bits and bobs in the plethora of jacket pockets and arrive looking vaguely smart (as good as it gets for me, in any case).

I leave with just enough time to get to the station, and no more. In the process I have to cycle furiously, search hopelessly for a bike space on the forecourt, give up, and leave my steed squeezed between two others in a makeshift “space”. 08:13, plenty of time to get the 08:15? Scurrying across the new bridge to platform 6 I arrive just in time, having built up a good sweat to start the day.

Boy it’s warm. Strip off jacket and jumper and try to relax. By the time we are at King’s Cross I have re-equilibrated and found some calm. Rather than join the throng on the Victoria line I opt for a pleasant walk through Bloomsbury, Tottenham Court Rd, then Goodge Street to Langham Place. There should be time en route for a coffee, so I stop along the way and get one “to go”. Curiously the lid comes loose as I raise it to my lips and I spill half a cup down my shirt front. It’s going to be a jumper day, whatever the weather. Lucky I removed it earlier. I arrive at  NBH reception at 10:13, just in time.

Suzanne Elston brings me to the “Science Hub” on floor 2 and introduces me to my desk for the next two days. What happens on Wednesday? I’ll wait and see. Meantime I make my introductions with some of my new summer colleagues … Anna to my left works on TV, World News. We chat about her Horizon programme on The Core, and my regular colleagues’ parts in it. She recounts her pleasure at learning about the depths of the Earth. This sounds good.

Later I meet Johnny B, sitting directly behind me: one of last year’s cohort of media fellows who is back for another summer of fun, he enjoyed it so much. This sounds even better.


While I am trying to work out what I should be doing (and how Windows works) Anna kidnaps me and sets me to work on one of her projects for the week … news that is scheduled to come out with Glastonbury at the weekend (I am self-embargoed). Feeling I have already let radio down, I pitch an idea to Julian Siddle and before I know it I am roped in to do a piece for the World Service’s “Science in Action” programme, to be recorded tomorrow. This sounds “interesting”.  Could be car crash radio … wait and see.

Later I chat with Paul Rincon, further down the room at the online news desks. I mention the same idea to him. Lo and behold, it seems I might have a piece on the same subject in news online, we’ll see.

Day 1 in the house. Diverse, interesting, challenging, and now with some homework to do before that recording tomorrow.

Oh, and yes, now you ask, Brian Cox did pop into the office today.

Meeting Aunty

Earlier this week I paid my first visit to “Aunty” … the beeb, New Broadcasting House. An introduction to my temporary home for part of this summer, as a British Science Association media fellow.Image

Hidden behind All Souls Langham Place, at the end of Regent Street, a tardis-like edifice greets you and causes an instant impression.


I met up with Paul Rincon, one of my BBC hosts for the summer, and we went in search of the BBC “badging” office. Hidden away next to Radio 1 a few streets away, with an air conditioning unit blowing on full to remedy the unusually warm humid summer weather.

Paul took me back to New Broadcasting House where I had my first sight of the Science Desks, in the second floor. Met briefly with David Shukman and Matt McGrath, who were busy preparing the finishing touches to other long-term weather news.


First impressions? The natives seem friendly, but beware the Daleks on the way out.