Man's world: Andrew Martin
Journalist and novelist Andrew Martin is the author of the 'Jim Stringer' series of novels based around railways. He has written for the Independent on Sunday, the Evening Standard, the Sunday Times and the New Statesman among others.
Sunday 25 October 1998
My flirtation with the airwaves began in the mid-Seventies. For some reason best known to themselves, Woman's Hour had decided to do a feature on the York Mystery Plays, of which I was a child star, playing Herod's messenger. The interviewer asked me: "What do you think of the fact that the Mystery Plays are subsidised by the rates?" - an odd question to put to a 12-year-old, I would have thought. In any case, my reply - "I didn't know that they were subsidised by the rates" - did not make the final cut.
After university, I - like everyone I know - applied to be a trainee assistant producer at the BBC, and when they acknowledged the receipt of my application form my hopes irrationally soared. But then came the rejection letter. Not even an interview! I convinced myself that I must have been vetted because, for about two weeks, I was once a member of the Young Communist League.
Weeks later, I responded to a newspaper ad soliciting researchers for The South Bank Show. In the back of my mind was that idea that, having literary aspirations, slightly too-long hair and a Northern accent, I might one day displace Mr Melvyn Bragg, as he was then. These thoughts made me feel vaguely guilty and I inwardly acknowledged that I had received my just deserts when it became clear that my application would receive no reply.
Things having gone a bit quiet on the TV front, I tried radio. I wrote to Loose Ends, and was interviewed in the BBC canteen by an amanuensis of Ned Sherrin. Afterwards, she said, "Right! I'm going to go away and tell Ned all about you." Even now I cannot bear to imagine how that conversation went; suffice to say that I never got to banter with Ned, and have not laughed at a single thing he's said ever since.
Then I had a novel published, and was summoned to appear on a cable TV show for adolescents. Now this, I thought - taking the train to Norwich where the station was, slightly disappointingly, based - could be the start of something big. But I began the interview badly, embarking on Michael Foot-like sentences, only much longer; then the amiable host uttered the ominous words: "And now over to our teenage reviewers to hear what they thought of Andrew's book."
The first teenager said that she "really loved" the first page of my book, but that it went downhill thereafter; the second opined that it was "pretty boring, really". Well, I went to pieces, alternating between pompous self-righteousness and unfunny flippancy, twitching and actually, at one point, brushing dandruff off my lapel. "You were great!" said the presenter afterwards, but I knew that, at 36, my TV career was a mirage that had faded. I walked into a twilit Norwich and got slowly hammered.
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