My Greatest Mistake: Nick Clarke, Presenter, BBC Radio 4'S 'The World At One'

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The Independent Online

I was a reporter on the Yorkshire Evening Post in 1972. My news editor sent a group of us out with a photographer to prove that it was possible to beat the immigration system, as a lot of Pakistani textile-workers were doing at the time.

We hired a boat and boatman, and blacked up using burnt cork. The idea was that we would take a boat at Bridlington, go out to sea a little way, and then row in just after dusk. We would then walk four miles, to where a car would be waiting for us. Thus we would have triumphantly shown how poor the defences were against illegal immigration.

We had a very hazy idea of what we would do if we were stopped - we didn't have a fall-back plan at all. We would probably have tried to congratulate them and tell them what a fine job they had done by nabbing us.

But we didn't get that far. Just before dark, one of my colleagues had a panic and thought he ought to make a quick call to the editor to make sure everything was all right. Unfortunately, the editor had spoken to the police and the coastguard. We were told we would have to speak to them, too - which rather destroyed the point of the exercise. So we sat there on the beach, with our blacking and our boatman, and were told the operation was off.

Apparently, some people in the office had heard what we were going to do and felt that it wasn't at all right, and also that an industrial tribunal case might cause some trouble if we were lost at sea.

So, I never got to play my part in this great story. It was going to be my big breakthrough. We had been robbed of our great scoop.

That was the end of my undercover career. I felt terribly let down. So we had a very good meal and an awful lot to drink that night to try to make up for it.