I applied to Reuters, Scottish TV and the BBC trainee scheme. The BBC turned me down fairly quickly, and STV turned me down after an interview, but Reuters sent me a little test through the mail to do. It was a sheet of A4 with about 20 or 30 sentences on it, describing a fire on Oxford Street, and the sentences were repetitive, badly written, and inaccurate. I had to turn it into a 250-word news story.
I knocked it off in about five minutes, but when I discussed it with a couple of friends, they had their doubts about what I'd written. But I knew I'd got it right, and sent it off, and after calling me for interview, Reuters gave me a job as a graduate trainee. Ten of us got in out of 2,000 applicants. I was in the main newsroom, and worked on the Middle Eastern desk, then the Africa desk and then the World desk.
The following year, I got a posting to Paris at the time of les evenements. There I was on the streets of Paris, covering one of the great modern revolutions - out at the sharp end only having been in journalism for a year. I was always out there with the TV camera crews - though I could easily have stayed back in the office - and it was then that I knew what I really wanted to do was to be a TV news reporter.
So I left Reuters and applied to BBC TV news, getting in as a writer. When I'd been there for a while, I asked to be a reporter, but they said no, and after a year and a half I applied to ITN, where the structure seemed much less rigid. Again, I went in as a writer, in the summer of 1972, but when I told them I wanted to be a reporter, they said no, too. I gave up trying in the end, but when I'd been there three years, word suddenly went round that they were going to appoint a reporter. I applied, and did a studio camera test thinking I stood no chance, but I got the job and for the next 10 years did what I'd always wanted to do - globetrotting, being a "fireman".
Iran was my first really big story - I covered the revolution after the Shah fled, and I flew in to Tehran with Ayatollah Khomeini, who had been in exile in Paris. Tehran was a really happy place to be at that point - it was a joyous revolution - but six months later, the American hostages were taken at the embassy, and I was back again, this time in an Islamic fundamentalist nation.
The other really big one was Afghanistan after the Soviet invasion, and I got into Afghanistan five times to report on it, three times with me and my crew dressed as mujahedin and having to come in over the mountains from Pakistan. It was very exciting, Boys' Own stuff, though we nearly got killed on a number of occasions, and, looking back, I did some very foolish things. Once, in Kabul, I got my crew and myself put in front of a wall after we were captured filming - and we thought we were in front of a firing squad.
The last major story I did was the Philippines revolution, when Ferdinand Marcos was defeated by Cory Aquino, and I got a Royal Television Society gong for that. I was pleased about that, because not long after, in 1987, ITN took me off the road and made me a newscaster. They were making an international nightly half-hour news bulletin for the new Superchannel, which was just launching, and because it would go out to 16 countries across Europe, they wanted a presenter who spoke to clear English without a regional accent and who could pronounce foreign names.
In the first few years after I stopped being a reporter, I began to wish I was still "out there" - during the Gulf war, for instance. My one regret in my reporting career at ITN was that I was Washington correspondent at the time of the Falklands War, and so was covering the diplomatic end of it in the US when all I really wanted to do was be aboard a British warship in the South Atlantic. But newscasting is exciting too: it's live television, and you get a similar adrenaline rush every single time you hear the countdown through your earpiece. And there are no bullets flying around, and I know what time I'm going to get home at night. I miss reporting, but with a smile on my face.Reuse content