Cameras stood still while I panned around the set

When television calls, the vain always answer. So it was with me. The newish editor of Newsnight - a terrific woman - asked whether I'd do a few stints as a stand-in presenter on the show, since she thought I might be good at it. There again, she acknowledged over coffee at the Trocadero, I might be a crock. Was I willing to try?

When television calls, the vain always answer. So it was with me. The newish editor of Newsnight - a terrific woman - asked whether I'd do a few stints as a stand-in presenter on the show, since she thought I might be good at it. There again, she acknowledged over coffee at the Trocadero, I might be a crock. Was I willing to try?

Was I. Newsnight is one the great TV programmes. It is a programme of state. Its presenters are recognised in supermarkets in a way that columnists, however salty, are not.

So, one night at 10.28pm, I stood there waiting for the continuity announcer to couple my name and Newsnight's, and one thought was running round my head. Why am I doing this? Why am I standing here, terrified out of my wits, when I could be safe at home sneering at some other presenter?

It was partly the unremitting it-could-all-go-phut-any-secondness of it that was so worrying. But not just that, because I'd done live telly before. Newsnight presenters are on their own in a way that weekly current-affairs interviewers or the chairs of panel games are not.

On most shows you are a star; it all revolves round you and a dozen bright minions service your every need. Not on Newsnight, where the tradition is that your frontperson is a seasoned pro who can hack whatever happens, while the rest of the team get on with booking interviewees, editing films and constructing last-minute packages.

On my sixth or seventh programme I was coming to the end of an interview with a large apparition from Holland on a screen at the back of the studio. "Camera 5 next," came the director's voice in my ear. I said goodbye and turned. But as I swivelled in my chair I discovered that the first camera was number one. The second was number three.

So I kept on going in an arc, reading a bit of autocue off each camera, until, eventually, I arrived at the one the furthest distance away from me. That was 5. To the viewer my sedentary journey must have seemed bizarre.

In my short time I got to interview Spike Lee, Lionel Jospin, Bono, seven or eight ministers, 10 scientists, the head of the Royal Opera House, three historians and Boris Johnson. Some of them I did quite well.

Then it was announced that Jeremy Vine, the ten- foot film-star reporter from South Africa, was coming full-time, and perhaps they didn't need me any more. I was, of course, crushed. And ever so relieved.

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