Thursday is meetings day and at 11am it’s the big one, when publisher Marcus Arthur holds court and we discover what state the magazine is in.
This week it’s looking good. The latest issue sold pretty well, our circulation is still steady and our laconic ad manager is convinced we will surpass our end-of-year forecasts. But it’s not backslaps all round as Marcus reminds us that it’s still six weeks to go before year-end, so no f**k-ups, please.
In the afternoon it’s the covers meeting, where editor Gill Hudson gathers the chosen few to scour the schedules for possible covers. We lovingly handcraft each cover – no press-handout pictures for us. Nor do we stand around for weeks stroking our collective chins deciding which impossibly attractive girl to put on the cover, as they do on the monthlies.
We can get up to three days to do one – that’s from shoot to being on press. This week is no exception. The cover that was finished has been junked (the programme has moved) and we have to find another. Picture editor Patricia Taylor hits the phones.
We will now feature a programme from the BBC’s Talent Week. She finds and acquires an exclusive set of pictures of Kate Winslet by Radio Times regular Jason Bell. Despite what I said, we get to put an impossibly attractive woman on the cover of RT.
Oh joy. It looks like a shoot we need to do for the Easter issue has come forward to next Wednesday. Three working days to get a studio built in a barn in Wiltshire – with no heating or electricity – to photograph the stars of the big Easter drama, The Tamworth Two. Yep, you guessed it: a couple of big ginger pigs. I bet the art director of Wallpaper doesn’t get such glamorous assignments. I speak to the photographer, Andy Earl, about what I want. Strangely, and comfortingly, he seems very excited about the prospect.
I have my doubts. Patricia starts to find pig trainers and a portable generator.
As the father of four girls, I have never had to stand on a cold and wet touchline getting into brawls with pushy football dads. No, give me an overheated church hall, the Saturday papers and the distant click clack of 22 eight-year-olds trying to get to grips with grade-three tap any day. After lunch my wife Maria and I take the two youngest girls to Norfolk for the rest of the weekend.
The two-year-old wakes early, so rather than let her disturb the whole house I take her for a walk along the beach. The sunrise is breathtaking. I make a mental note never to go back to work. All too soon it is time to return home. Arrive to find the teenagers having a door-slamming row about who’s wearing whose clothes. I make a mental note to go to work and never come home.
On Monday we plan the next issue.
Today is week 17 (we work to the broadcasting weeks) and I can’t tell when that is. The Gregorian calendar has lost all meaning to me. I know, for instance, that the start of Euro 2004 is week 24 and the Olympics is week 32, but when they actually take place I couldn’t tell you. I am told that when this happens you have finally gone BBC native.
I turn up at Old Billingsgate market for “The View”, a workshop for BBC managers to learn about leadership, all part of Greg Dyke’s legacy. A slow dread comes over me as I enter and see tables covered in Pritt sticks, coloured markers and Day-Glo paper.
After much sticking and writing, I find myself being projected on to a 50-foot screen trying to explain to 350 people what I think makes a good manager.
Obviously, I didn’t share with them my patented “make it all up as you go along” approach to leadership. I was really struck by everyone’s passion the BBC. It was also pleasing to find a healthy hint of cynicism, but none of the institutionalised toadying, backbiting and negativity that I have found working on certain national newspapers.
I get home tired and, against my better nature, actually inspired.
Slightly groggy I make my way to the rendezvous for my lift to our Animal Farm extravaganza. Patricia arrives wearing some of the most inappropriate clothing I have ever seen for standing around in a muddy field all day. After a winter job hodcarrying in the Fens, I have full thermals on. I get in the car feeling warm and smug.
We arrive to find that Andy and set builder Bob Day have worked wonders in the barn. A large blue sky backdrop and an immaculate field of turf studded with daffodils create the perfect spring day, even though it is freezing. Emma Pierson, the young actress who stars in The Tamworth Two, arrives for hair and make-up. She is not at all fazed that we want her to stand around in a thin coat and high heels in these temperatures while two enormous pigs push her around. She is a star and keeps her cool while animal handlers try to cajole the pigs into position. After three hours we have precious little film in the can, but suddenly it all falls into place. Andy nods that he thinks he’s got the shot and we can all relax. On the way home, I realise I know why Radio Times is truly a magnificent magazine. How many of our rivals would take that trouble and effort for what will be a striking photo special? And how many of their art directors will be eating Tamworth pork sausages tonight?