My Mentor: Tony Wilson on Nigel Ryan

'I think it's nice having a scary boss because it keeps you under control'
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The Independent Online

When I left university in 1971 I went to ITN as a trainee. ITN was the news organisation in Britain and it regarded itself as second only to CBS News in New York.

When I left university in 1971 I went to ITN as a trainee. ITN was the news organisation in Britain and it regarded itself as second only to CBS News in New York.

It was my first job in the media and it was fantastic. There was an esprit de corps and a real culture there that you were the best. Sir Nigel Ryan was the boss. The big learning moment that I've applied to everything in my life since came after about six months. There was a football friendly and the result was Tel Aviv-0 Man United-1. I wrote the story and the picture caption and it went through to graphics. But that night at eleven o'clock the caption read Tel Aviv-1 Man United-0. The next morning I was in front of Nigel Ryan. I was left in no doubt that I was about to be sacked. I'd done everything right and the graphics guy had messed it up, but there was no discussion of that because it was my item. I learnt complete responsibility from that: the buck didn't move.

That was the kind of organisation ITN was. I was taught that perfection was all. Nigel Ryan explained: "Far from this being an inconsequential football result on a Sunday late night with no viewers, if we can get something as inconsequential as this wrong, how can we be right about Vietnam?" People didn't make mistakes. To me that was one of the great lessons of my life. It taught me that I'd made the right decision in terms of a career.

It was that professionalism in news journalism which was profoundly affecting. Nigel Ryan was quite scary but I think it's nice having a scary boss because it keeps you under control.

Being a television journalist is very similar to being a plumber or a carpenter because it's a collection of professional trade skills. I learnt these at ITN. They're not too complicated but you have to have commitment, and then you have a trade for life.

Tony Wilson is a writer and broadcaster.

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