Ned Sherrin: My Life In Media

'I'm the only critic in the entire world who reviews memorial services'
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The Independent Online

What inspired you to start a career in the media?

I'd done some revues at Oxford, one of which the BBC televised. The day after I finished law and was officially called to the Bar, I was walking down the Strand and I bumped into the man who'd been floor manager on that revue. He said: "We're starting commercial television next week why don't you come and join us?" There wasn't much inspiration, it was just frightfully convenient.

When you were 15 years old what was the family newspaper, and did you read it?

The Daily Mail - I was fairly thorough - and the Western Gazette on Fridays in Somerset.

What were your favourite TV and radio programmes?

We didn't have TV until after the coronation, but the radio was Saturday Night Theatre and In Town Tonight. There were three programmes that came out of the war; one naval, one army and Much Binding in the Marsh - the air-force one, which I enjoyed most.

What are the first media you turn to each morning?

Today on Radio 4 and I read the Mail. I used to read The Times but I've given it up since it got to that ridiculous shape. I can't find anything in it so now it's the Mail and the Telegraph.

Do you consult media sources during the working day?

I keep Radio 4 on most of the time. If there's something I don't like I go across to Five Live. I don't really watch the television until after 10 o'clock. I don't have any access to the internet and I don't even have a typewriter. I have a fax machine and an answerphone - that's the extent of my skills. It's never been a problem for me - if you're somewhere and you need a taxi someone will always lend you their phone.

What is the proudest achievement in your working life?

I suppose TW3 (That Was The Week That Was) will entitle me to a footnote in broadcasting history. It was a satirical programme which I started in 1962, and which is supposed to have changed television, certainly in terms of content. Politics, religion and class all came in focus as possible objects of comedy.

And what was your most embarrassing moment?

I was sitting next to a woman called Erica Jong at a dinner party at Ken Follett's one night. I knew she'd written a book called Fear of Flying, but I thought it was some sort of self-help manual, and so I asked her: "Have you ever though of writing a novel?" I think she snapped something back to me which made it obvious I'd been very ignorant. Apparently it's quite a famous novel.

What's the best thing about your job?

I was brought up on a farm and I didn't like getting my hands dirty. Most of the time I can keep my hands clean.

And the worst?

I can't think of a bad thing about it. If I wasn't being paid for it I would be doing it as a hobby.

At home, what do you tune into?

Radio 4, Newsnight, Bremner, Bird and Fortune and food programmes.

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

The Sunday Times and the Mail on Sunday. I have a unique job on The Oldie; I am the only critic in the entire world who reviews memorial services. I see The Spectator but it seems to be in decline - too much sex and not enough input into the magazine.

Name the one career ambition you want to realise before you die.

I've never had a plan for a career and I think it's too late to start having one now.

If you didn't work in the media what would you do?

As I'm 74 going on 75 I'd be happily retired - in sheltered accommodation!

Who in the media do you most admire and why?

I think it's "did" you most admire, which is probably Hugh Carleton Greene. He was the director general who liberated the BBC in the 1960s, partly by letting us do TW3. He was a great influence on broadcasting.

The CV

1955 Gives up a career as a barrister to help launch terrestrial television as a producer with ATV in Birmingham, moving to the BBC in 1957

1962 TW3 launches reaching a peak of 12 million viewers before being axed at the end of 1963. Hugh Carleton Greene said of its demise: "It was as a pillar of the Establishment that I yielded to the fascist hyena-like howls to take it off!"

1966 Leaves the Beeb to produce films, including The Virgin Soldiers (1969) and Up Pompeii (1971)

1984 Wins an Olivier award for a stage production of Iolanthe

1985 Begins presenting Radio 4's comedy and music show Loose Ends then music quiz Counterpoint the following year, both of which he still presents almost 20 years later

2005 The life story of one of Britain's best-loved broadcasters, Ned Sherrin: The Autobiography, is published by Little, Brown