The perils of live telly

by Stephen Tall on September 24, 2006

So I wasn’t going to blog about this…

Last Monday was my first time on live telly, on BBC News 24, where I was asked to give my reflections on the opening day of the Lib Dem conference, alongside a political correspondent for the Financial Times.

The interviewer, James Landale, asked her a question; then he asked me a question (a different question to the one he’d said he would ask, but what the heck). And then he reverted to my fellow interviewee – who looked queasy, staggered slightly, and then fainted. Live on air.

It’s fair to say I was caught off-guard (as you can see from this still). Together with Mr Landale, we (sort of) caught her mid-fall, and then there was a split second when we both thought the same thing – do we carry on?

Quite rightly, the channel’s editors intervened, and cut straight back to the News 24 studio in some confusion.

As I say, I wasn’t going to mention any of this here (it just didn’t seem fair). But two things prompt me to do so.

First, I see the BBC has seen fit to broadcast the moment on its Storyfix download, which you can watch here (it’s about a third of the way in).

To my embarrassment and shame, I emerge from the incident looking utterly heartless, rather than serenely gallant (as I had hoped, and mis-remembered) – like the kind of cheap politician who would step over his own grandmother’s corpse if she lay between him and a photo-op. My only defence is that it happened very quickly, and that I was acutely conscious this was being broadcast in real-time.

The second reason I’m now telling all is that the journalist who fainted wrote a lovely e-mail to me last week, which Id like to share:

I don’t know if you remember me, but I was the falling body that interrupted your moment of glory on BBC News 24 on Monday evening in the Metropole Bar.

This is just a short note to say sorry that my unexpectedly crashing blood pressure came between you and Mr Landale’s penetrating questions – I told James later that he should have just stepped over me and carried on asking you what you thought about things. Sky would have done, I reckon!

And several of Ming’s aides said I’d introduced a great way of avoiding the difficult questions on policy.

Anyway, I’ve heard you on just about every broadcast outlet since then, so well done, and I clearly haven’t killed off a burgeoning career.

Regards, and please feel free to use the video clip and this letter on your site if you feel like it – I’m absolutely fine and won’t be offended at all. It was apparently a television first, and James said (I can’t remember any of it) that you did at least get to answer one question before I did the drama queen bit.

‘Nuff respect.

PS: Rob Fenwick has oh-so-kindly uploaded my moment of un-glory to YouTube here.