CV: JULIA SOMERVILLE Newscaster, ITN
I STILL REGARD MYSELF AS A RADIO PERSON WORKING IN TELEVISION, AS IT IS THE WORDS THAT I NATURALLY GRAVITATE TOWARDS
Monday 24 March 1997
I joined IPC Magazines, and my first job was as a sub-editor on Homes and Gardens. I had a year there, and then went down to Brighton and got a job with a big computer conglomerate called ITT. I edited their monthly employee newspaper, which also covered their factories in London and South Wales, so I moved between the three places collecting news. I did everything except operate the printing presses - the photography, the layout and the writing - and that was a tremendous learning curve.
I did that for two years, before applying for the BBC's journalist training scheme, which they'd just started. I'd always been an avid Radio 4 listener, and so when I came to do the part of the entrance test that involved writing news reports it all came naturally to me - I'd learnt by osmosis, really. I got a place, but didn't take it up because I went to live in France for a year, though I kept in touch with the BBC while I was there and got a job in the BBC Radio newsroom when I came back. I was a sub-editor, which basically meant I was writing the news for the newsreaders at BBC Radio. The newsreaders are not journalists - they're people chosen for their voices.
After a few years I became a general radio reporter, and was sent all over the place, before becoming the correspondent for labour and industrial affairs. This was in the early Eighties, when the unions were very active. I seemed to be covering strikes non-stop. I then had the opportunity to do a small attachment to BBC's Nationwide, and worked as a reporter for the South-east section; I wanted some experience in television, really. I had been approached on a number of occasions by people asking whether I wanted to make the switch to television, but up until then I had been adamant that I wanted to stay in radio.
Then I became pregnant, and while I was on maternity leave I was rung up by John Humphrys to say that the BBC were looking for someone to replace Sue Lawley on the Nine O'Clock News, as she was moving to the new Six O'Clock News. I went in to do a screen test, and much to my astonishment was offered the job. I thought I would have a go, and that if it didn't work out I could retreat and no one would notice that I had tried it at all.
I had two weeks of reading the previous nights' bulletins in the studio to get used to the idea of being in front of the cameras, and was launched on-screen in July 1984. In 1987 I moved to ITN, initially to present the lunchtime news, and then was switched to News at Ten. When News at Ten went five nights a week, I went back to the lunchtime news, and have been doing that ever since. But, in some senses, I still regard myself as a radio person working in television, as for me it's the words that I still naturally gravitate towards.
The attraction of a newscasting job was that it represented a regular way of living, but obviously I was aware that being on television would instantly transform me into someone recognisable. I think that anyone who's in the public eye and is also a journalist is aware that this represents a conflict of interests, because you become an object of curiosity and scrutiny of people of whom you are one. You're going to be attracting attention, but I've learnt how to handle it, and all I would ever seek to do is protect other people from the effects of that attention.
I became very aware of my own role in the media when the first Vietnamese boat people were admitted to this country in the late Seventies, and I was sent to cover their arrival. These people got off the plane, each carrying just a carrier bag, and were herded into a place where they were given a meal at long tables. I was in radio, but the TV journalists were allowed to go in and film them, and this made me think that we were putting them in the position of being like animals at the zoo. I saw the way the media can behave without realising it sometimes, and that gave me an uncomfortable feeling.
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