The Way I Was: The BBC's (terrified) man in Vienna: Tim Sebastian tells Nicholas Roe about his first experiences as an extremely nervous foreign correspondent for the World Service

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THE PHOTO is a kind of cross between Viva Zapata] and a driver for the Gambino family which, if I'd gone on dressing like that, is probably what I'd have become. Dark jacket, dark shirt, sort of turned-down moustache and a vacant expression, which indicates that there was everything in front of me and not much behind.

This was taken just before I went to be a BBC correspondent and I had to get a new passport, so it's a formative period, because I was full of hope, or fear actually.

It was 1978, and I'd have been 26. I'd started off with the BBC's Russian Service and actually got to be a disc jockey for a while, in Russian. We'd send these programmes out on a Friday night and never hear anything back, because it was like broadcasting into a black hole in those days. Then things changed because they were looking for someone to go to Vienna for the World Service as a fill-in, so they asked around and I was sent for a couple of months.

There was such a lot going on in Poland in those days, although it all seems a long time ago now. You rarely, if ever, went into the Eastern Bloc itself; you didn't get your feet wet, you stayed in Vienna, which was the major listening post and had access to all the East European news agencies, which told you nothing at all. But it was a marvellous experience, even so.

I remember the night I arrived, getting out to this suburb of the city around midnight, looking for the BBC flat. And there I found what I can only describe as Castle Dracula: an enormous building rising up out of the hillside. I got the front door open, which creaked - literally, it creaked - and I went inside to find that the rooms were like aircraft hangers, maybe 40ft long. So I pulled the bed into the hall to sleep, discovering in the process that there was a club underneath it - just in case, presumably. For the entire period of my stay in Vienna I slept in that hall.

It was my first foreign assignment and I did nothing but work; I was obsessed with work. You know, sometimes I even fell asleep at the office. I'd occasionally hurry out to a little cafe nearby, then hurry back again in case I missed a call. It was just me and I socialised with absolutely no one.

My days ended about one o'clock in the morning, but the city centre died about 8.30pm anyway, and on Sundays the Viennese used to go out to visit the cemeteries. It was a depressing place.

One night, as I walked home down the main street, a car stopped opposite where I was, three men got out and advanced menacingly towards me and I thought, 'Well, I don't think I'll hang around for this', so I walked down a side street, only to discover that there were other men coming towards me the other way. It was like a film. Even to my addled brain it was apparent that I was in serious trouble, and I thought, 'Well, I'm going to have to make a run for it.'

But as I started running one of them yelled 'Halt' and I looked round to find a gun pointing at me. I put my hands up then; very rapidly indeed. It turned out that this was a police raid. Someone had been involved in a robbery and he fitted my description exactly, but I managed to persuade them that it wasn't me.

They were crazy days, but you learnt the craft. Eventually, I learnt to pick up the phone and actually call people in Poland and Czechoslovakia, which seemed very daring at the time.

In the picture I look absolutely terrified and I think I probably was: of being a foreign correspondent, of representing the BBC abroad. But it was something I wanted greatly, so I also look immensely serious. I was young and enthusiastic, and I knew that this was my lucky break.

(Photograph omitted)

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