Ian Macrae: My life in media

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The Independent Online

Ian Macrae, 54, is blind and as the first disabled editor of Disability Now magazine he has been responsible for this week's relaunch of the title. Macrae was previously a BBC executive producer and editor of the corporation's Disability Programmes Unit. He has been responsible for a number of high-profile television programmes over his 25-year career, including From The Edge, The Invisible Wall and The Disabled Century. He has also worked on BBC Radio 4's In Touch and You and Yours. He has three children and lives with his wife Sarah and the youngest two in west London.

What inspired you to embark on a career in the media?

Partly it was being told I couldn't by an RNIB careers officer when I was 16 and mad about off-shore pirate radio. I reminded him of it a few months ago when he was a guest on In Touch and I was presenting. Partly it was being interviewed on Tyne Tees telly at the age of 10 when I was one of two blind kids in the Newcastle Gang Show at the Theatre Royal, and partly it was just listening to and loving disc jockeys like Alan Freeman and Roger Scott and wanting to be something between the two of them.

When you were 15 years old which newspaper did your family get, and did you read it?

Ha Ha! As my parents were both blind and we were also pretty skint we didn't get a newspaper, although my dad was a big fight fan and used to get The Ring and Boxing News and I used to lap them up with my own limited amount of sight.

And what were your favourite TV and radio programmes?

All the classics, really. The Archers and I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again on the wireless. And on television; Coronation Street, and I loved Patrick McGoohan in The Prisoner. There was also Top of the Pops and The Old Grey Whistle Test.

Describe your job?

Helping to produce the best magazine on disability – Disability Now – and helping to change attitudes and end discrimination.

What's the first media you turn to in the mornings?

Nicky Campbell and Sheila Fogarty on Five Live. I worked with Nicky at Watchdog and love the way they bounce off each other. But my two young children make me retune to Johnny Vaughan on Capital.

What do you tune into when you get home from work?

Depending on the time it's either Five Live Drive, which I listen to in order to be irritated by Peter Allen's studied grumpiness, or Radio 4 for The Archers.

Do you consult any media sources during the day?

I get electronic versions by email of half a dozen newspapers from the Talking Newspapers Association of the UK (TNAUK) – they provide national newspapers and magazines on audio tape, computer disk, email, internet download and CD-ROM for people with visual impairments – and skim-read all of them. I don't stay as much in touch with broadcast news as I'd like but try to catch the bulletin on The World Tonight.

How do you feel you influence the media?

I try to make them take a more rounded, common sense approach to disabled people. We need to break the illusion that disabled people are somehow "other" to non-disabled people. And my editorship of Disability Now will need to "straddle" mainstream and disability-focused media.

What's the proudest achievement in your working life?

Serious answer: much of the programming we produced in the Disability Programmes Unit at BBC Television. Some of it was really ground – and mould- breaking. More frivolously: I was twice recognised and helped across the road by Alan Yentob.

And what's your most embarrassing moment?

Having to ask an interviewee on Radio Newcastle to remind me of their name. I also once forgot the name of the reporter I was about to talk to on air, so I asked her and she said "Jackie". I had to say "Jackie what!"

What is your Sunday paper and do you have a favourite magazine?

I read The Sunday Times and at least one red top from TNAUK. They also send me the New Statesman, The Spectator and BBC Good Food. I also love Viz.

Name the one career ambition you want to realise before you retire?

In the short term, to get the relaunch issue out and make it brilliant. Long term, I want to make DN the magazine that takes disability into the mainstream – and reflects the real lives of disabled people and the issues that matter to them.

Who in the media do you most admire and why?

Anyone disabled who makes it in this business deserves my vote. I've also always admired Vanessa Whitburn, the editor of The Archers, because she's not frightened of anything or of having a fight about it. She's run and stoutly defended some really strong storylines, particularly in the area of mental health. But I'd really like to be Lesley Douglas, the controller of Radio2, because she's a Geordie in a very cool job. Come to think of it, that's what I am though I almost certainly don't get as many free CDs!

What would you do if you didn't work in the media?

I can't imagine. I once hankered after a career in the music biz and came close to having one. And when freelance work dried up a bit in the early 1990s I was offered, as an alternative, a job in the local blind workshops putting divan beds together, which says a lot about assumptions about what disabled people are considered capable of. Those assumptions still pervade society.

The CV

1981 Joins Radio Newcastle and reports for BBC Radio 4's In Touch throughout the 1980s

1985 First TV presenting job with What Would You Do?

1990 Presents two series of Same Difference for Channel 4, which focuses on disability issues

1992 Moves to the BBC's Disability Programmes Unit, becoming editor in 1994

2007 Appointed first disabled editor of Disability Now, which relaunches on Thursday with an interview with Heather Mills