I was doing a Radio 2 panel show last week and we had a heckler. Well, to be fair it wasn't exactly heckling, more mumbling. It all started really quietly, when the comic Robin Ince was going on about Jordan and Peter Andre. There were mutterings from the back of the crowd about how he ought to "leave Jordan alone". It was said so quietly that Ince pretty much ignored it. Then the voice asked him to "leave Peter Andre alone".
We carried on, but the voice started to get louder and less clear and wanted to have an opinion on everything in that drunken, certain way. Finally, the voice was urged to leave by floor staff – it turned out to belong to a very tipsy woman who had mistaken the show for a vodka bar.
More chaos ensued when she left her seat and hung around alongside the panel while looking for the exit. Her friends didn't want to leave, but eventually accepted that they would probably have to if they didn't want her to end up under a bus. The audience applauded as they left, but I have to admit to feeling a little sad. I wanted her to join the panel – it would have been brilliant.
I really quite enjoy things going wrong. Almost all broadcasting is so formulaic and predictable that it isn't surprising reality TV and "bloopers" feature so heavily in "golden moment" segments. Oliver Reed was always my favourite. I happened to be on the set of After Dark, the portentous but groundbreaking late-night, round-sofa talkathon show in the late Eighties. I had blagged a day's work experience, and what an experience it was. Reed was sitting in the middle of a gaggle of intellectuals and feminists and getting quietly drunk. It was like watching a time bomb ticking. When he eventually blew up and started insulting the feminists and scaring the intellectuals it was magnificent – hypnotic TV. YouTube it – it's fabulous.
A couple of years later, Reed staggered on to Michael Aspel's talk show clasping not a glass, but a jug of vodka and orange. He was completely blotto – did a weird dance, sang terribly, and made everyone very nervous. It was curious, though – you could see Michael Aspel thinking: "Uh oh, he's really drunk." But you could also see him thinking: "Hooray! This boring programme is going to make the news and become briefly watchable."
I never understand why TV doesn't have more of these incidents. All executives pay lip service to "responsibility" and "professionalism", but they all know that audiences love chaos. I think the problem is probably with the presenters. Their job relies on carefully crafted shows that do their best to hide the fact that they are mostly automatons with no real personality beyond the autocue.
Anything out of the ordinary or unexpected will, most likely, not make them look very good, so they don't encourage it. Greatness comes from those who happily thrive on the unexpected and go with it.
I've done my share of interrupting programmes. I used to regularly stage "incidents" behind the news cameras on College Green at Westminster when they went live there during moments of political turmoil. They got so fed up with me that they built a raised dais on which to put their guests and presenters so nobody on ground level could be seen. I was not defeated. One telephone call to an acrobaticics group and, an hour later, I had seven gymnasts forming a human pyramid and appearing live in shot. It was one of my proudest moments.
So come on, people: bum-rush those live outside broadcasts and interrupt panel shows. Take back television from the dullards. Let's make "live" television really live and worth watching again.Reuse content