CV; MICHAEL BUERK Newscaster and presenter of `999'


When I was at school, in the early Sixties, I thought I would get a commission in the RAF, but I failed the medical because of poor eyesight. Not really knowing what to do after that, I ended up working as a hod-carrier on a building site, but soon decided that physical work wasn't for me.

I then thought I'd better find a job with which I could hold my head up high in the boozer when my friends came home from college in the holidays. Journalism sounded OK - trendy and bohemian - and so I dug out a reference- library copy of Willings Press Guide to get the addresses of about 100 newspapers. I got stock rejection letters from 99 of them, but one weekly paper near where I lived - the Bromsgrove Messenger - invited me for an interview. The editor had a passion for cricket, and the interview didn't really go anywhere until I mentioned that I played cricket myself - then he gave me a job. I didn't do very much there - I remember ghosting the "Field, Wood and Hedgerow" column - but after deciding I should be on something bigger, I got on to the Western Mail and Southwest Echo's graduate training scheme in Cardiff.

After a couple of years there I went to The Daily Mail, working mainly in Manchester, where I had to follow George Best around the city's nightclubs. But I suppose I wanted something grander than that, and I saw that the BBC was advertising for new producers for the local radio stations it was just starting up. I got a job at Radio Bristol, where I doubled my salary and met Kate Adie, who was starting as the women's programmes producer.

I did a year there, and was then recruited by HTV, where I did another year on their local news magazine programme. I left there to join the BBC in Southampton, as a regional staff reporter, and then, in 1972, I got a job as a national TV reporter and moved to London, where I covered Middle East stories and the invasion of Cyprus. Three years after that I became industrial correspondent, covering all the strikes there were in the mid-Seventies, and as I did that I became very interested in the oil business; this was the time when all the platforms were being built in the North Sea.

So I went on to become the BBC's energy correspondent, and for some of that time I was based up in Scotland. And, in 1979, a Scotland correspondent's job was created for me, as the BBC in London wanted its own correspondent to report on Scottish stories, rather than going through BBC Scotland.

Then, in 1981, I got a BBC special correspondent's job, and came back to London. But I was always on the move: I was sent to Northern Ireland for one day, and came back three months later having been sent from Northern Ireland to El Salvador. Then the Falklands Crisis broke, and I was sent from El Salvador to Chile. But I spent the war itself in Buenos Aires, for which I was lionised on my return but which wasn't the least bit dangerous, really. I was then appointed South Africa correspondent, but agreed to alternate with John Humphrys reading the Nine O'Clock News until I left London.

I was based in Africa for four years, and that was the most interesting time of my career. These were the dying days of apartheid, and it was the most amazing story to cover - at once so complicated and so simple. And, in 1984, the cameraman Mohamed Amin and I did the original films about the famine in Ethiopia that started off Band Aid. The emotional numbness that I felt at the time is difficult to recapture: we knew things were bad, but even then we weren't prepared for what we saw. And because most of the white people there were doctors, nurses and aid-workers, people were under the impression that I'd be able to help in some way, which underlined to me convincingly how useless a journalist is in these circumstances.

Then, in 1986, South Africa introduced its state of emergency, which made it very difficult to report on the unrest, but it was also quite a challenge to find alternative ways of getting across what was going on. The Supreme Court overturned this after about a year, but then, after another 30 hours, the regulations were reimposed and we were expelled from the country.

When I got back to London I read the One O'Clock News for a while, and then the Nine O'Clock News when it was relaunched in 1988. I've continued to do that ever since, alongside various other things: I do The Moral Maze on Radio 4, and 999, which I suppose is an upmarket tabloid TV programme, but it's very well made and I think its heart's in the right place. And that's where you find me now - a male, middle-aged authority figure

Interview by Scott Hughes

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