On 5 July 2005, I started in my first job at the BBC. To mark my ten year anniversary at the Corporation I thought I’d test myself and recall ten memories which sum up my experience as a BBC staffer.
1. BBC Broadcast
My first job at the BBC was as a webmaster, providing out-of-hours technical and editorial support for the BBC website. On my first day I was shown what to do in the event of receiving an out-of-hours call from the Central Editorial team asking for the emergency homepage to be enabled. I was amazed that so soon after my first day I had access to such an important webpage. My second day in the office, London was awarded the 2012 Olympics. The day after that was 7/7. And the day after that, I bought a bike for my daily commute.
There are many memories about my first job at the BBC – it was an incredibly exciting time – but the most potent is one with someone who worked in the Media Library at the Broadcast Centre who started in her job soon after I did. We both shared a passion for radio. She had just discovered the BBC’s automated off-air recording system – Autorot – and was incredibly excited by it. It sounded like heaven: the ability to catch on any programme on any network from the past 7 days, free to BBC staff. Ten years later that person now produces the News Quiz on Radio 4.
2. BBC Children’s
I spent two and a half years as a webmaster, building websites for UKTV, digital postcards for BBC Resources, building the website for BBC iPlayer’s predecessor, the BBC IMP (Interactive Media Player) and for the set-top box equivalent called BBC Catch-Up TV . I shadowed on Blue Peter and the Graham Norton Show too.
But in late summer 2007, an opportunity presented itself to be a Technical Project Manager in what was then BBC Multiplatform Productions (back in the day when seemingly every TV programme had its own dedicated website built and maintained by an army of content producers). I was offered my new job by Phil Buckley, at a meeting in the Doughnut. I’d be working on BBC TV entertainment websites and on BBC Children’s online projects in the East Tower.
I delivered the BBC’s first Facebook application, the Strictly Come Dancing website, built a site for Any Dream Will Do, and a BBC Learning website called ‘Thread’ about ethical fashion. I also delivered BBC Children’s Adventure Rock (an immersive gaming experience for kids with plans for a linked TV programme).
BBC Children’s was a more challenging environment because the projects I was working on didn’t have the transmission deadlines TV entertainment did. But, many of the people who I worked with then still remain at the BBC doing ground-breaking digital work for Children’s up in Salford. Similarly, there are two project managers who started soon after me who are now Product Managers in Future Media for BBC News. A major achievement for all of them.
3. Eurovision 2008
It’s only recently I’ve come to understand that I’m ambitious. For a long time (especially in 2008) I just assumed that I was restless and ungrateful. Soon after my Technical Project Manager role, I discovered a spreadsheet on a desk which listed all the projects the department I was working in would like to obtain from other parts of the BBC. Eurovision was one of them.
As a Eurovision fan, getting the chance to be the project manager for Eurovision online was crucial. But there was a problem. The website was at that time ‘owned’ and run by BBC Radio. So, I took myself for a self-arranged meeting with the BBC Radio 2 online team. It was a swift meeting along the lines of “Do you want to run the website this year? Because if you don’t, I wouldn’t mind.” Miraculously, everyone seemed happy with my proposal (despite the fact no-one had sanctioned my bid) and a few weeks later I was building and populating the site.
The head of BBC Multiplatform at the time wasn’t too impressed, accosting me in the corridor, “Yeah, you’re a bit of a maverick, aren’t you?” But it was a little late by then. The BBC Eurovision website is now firmly rooted in TV, but before that time its natural home had been Radio 2 Online. See later for why this particular memory is important.
4. A bloke called Kevin
I spent six months as a Technical Project Manager before I ended up getting seduced by the possibility of being an online producer. Why? Because moving from technical to editorial was something which was really important to me. So, I ended up being offered a job complying videos for the Have I Got News For You and Graham Norton Show website in the BBC’s ‘Indie Unit’.
“Once a webmaster, always a webmaster,” said my new boss on my first day in the job, “You’ll never be editorial. You’re a techy. Nothing more.” Fueled by his inadvertently motivational induction, I spent six months in the Indie Unit before jumping ship to work for a bloke called Kevin in Training and Development. The interview for the job was unexpectedly jolly. There was a pay rise. And there was the promise to be as editorial as I wanted to be.
I accepted the job offer two hours after the interview. After which I worked out who it was. Kevin Marsh, former editor of the Today programme. Had I known who he was when I interviewed, I would have fluffed the interview. Now I knew, I was stunned I was a getting a chance to work with the man.
5. Reporting for Five Live
The job in Training and Development was to design and build a website, and occasionally write stuff for it: the BBC’s College of Journalism website. We opted for white text on a black background (see above), because that’s what Kevin wanted. It broke many of the online guidelines about accessibility. I did try to persuade him that it might be best if we moved away from black (feedback later confirmed the site as a whole looked a little austere, even funereal), but to no avail.
It was because of Kevin that the possibility of doing some journalism came closer to a reality. Childhood goals suddenly became within my grasp. Everything started to make a little more sense.
I went off to The Next Web conference in Amsterdam a couple of times. And, on the third trip, the greatest experience of all (the one I’d trained for before I joined the BBC in 2003) – the chance to make a radio package for Five Live. I recorded the material in Amsterdam and sent it to Jamilla Knowles in London via a drive share. She suggested the linking script, I edited it and then recorded it in my hotel room. Jamilla brought the package together. The piece went out on Five Live 24 hours later. An incredible trip.
6. The Proms
I had a bike accident in the spring of 2007 which ended up with me being off sick for a fortnight. During that time I quickly became incredibly bored. Off the back of some quirky video diaries I’d made getting a job at the BBC and during my time doing work experience on the Graham Norton Show, I figured I’d fill the hours of recovery time making a video about my love of the Proms brochure. YouTube was new – something which might possibly help get me a job in TV or radio at the BBC, I thought. The video went down surprisingly well (considering it was cobbled together quite quickly and without a plan) and is something I still look on with pride. All sorts of things followed as a result.
7. Leaving Television Centre
The first day with BBC Children’s was the day Mark Thompson (then DG) announced that the BBC would eventually move out of Television Centre. It seemed so mean. I’d always wanted to work at TVC and to finally start there on the day that the DG announced our impending departure seemed like a cruel twist of fate.
From then until the day the BBC moved out I had daydreams about making a video about the building, trying to reenact Roy Castle’s famous tap-dancing record breaking attempt. And I did. And it’s still something which brings a tear to my eye. Even now. The penultimate sequence in the studio and the stairwells feature the people I worked with in my first job at BBC Broadcast. Such good sports. Such a special experience.
8. Becoming a Coach
The BBC develops its staff through executive and career coaching by encouraging individuals to reflect on themselves, their behaviours and their goals. Anyone who has been coached or coaches will know what an incredibly valuable and rewarding process it is. I received some coaching in 2012, a few months after I’d started as a Digital Editor in Communications and Public Affairs, running the About the BBC website and Blog.
The coaching uncovered my goal to become a coach myself and – bizarrely – to get a job at the ‘beating heart’ of the organisation, the then newly built New Broadcasting House. I completed the training last year and am now a practising coach at the BBC. It is my most important personal achievement over the past ten years. It’s the thing I’m most proud of.
9. Moving to Broadcasting House
When I was on holiday in Tunisia last year I received a text message from a colleague in the department I now work in – Communications and Public Affairs. “We’re moving to Broadcasting House,” the text said. I couldn’t believe it.
Without having to change jobs, it turned out that our department was taking up residence in the very building I’d described in my coaching sessions as ‘the beating heart’ of the BBC. We moved in in November 2014. I love working in W1. No surprises I get a sudden charge of excitement whenever I see the countdown video played out on the BBC News Channel. Home.
10. Eurovision 2015
So to the last memory. The most recent. Radio 2 ran a pop-up radio station last year for Eurovision which I was asked to work on. I ran the live blog and helped out on social media.
This year, I got the chance to go out to Vienna to help out with radio producers and presenters for the second year of the digital pop-up service. It was the fourth time I’d been to Eurovision and it was the most special. I had a glorious time.
What I learnt during the trip was how difficult it is to drive listeners to websites. How people instinctively know what a website address is (ie www.bbc.co.uk/eurovision) and getting Eurovision fans to listen live to a digital radio station’s output is only possible if you get the radio station promoted from the BBC’s Eurovision website. I didn’t have to broker that – other people did that bit.
But, I did wonder to what extent that brokering would have been necessary if I hadn’t seven years before had a meeting with Radio 2 Online wresting the Eurovision website from Radio to TV. Had there been repercussions today for my own ambition in 2008?
My temporary station in the Eurovision Press Centre in Vienna.
So, what next?
It’s surely no coincidence that approaching my ten year anniversary working at the BBC has posed far more questions than I anticipated. The most potent is predictable: what next?
I’m remaining tight-lipped.