Through a series of circumstance long and complicated, I found myself in the studios of BBC Radio Suffolk at half five this morning, preparing to deputise live on air for regular Breakfast Show traffic and travel guru Simon “If it’s safe and legal to do so” Talbot under his beneficient tutelage and softly gaze. On the surface, this seemed like an easy gig – all I had to do was review the front pages of the daily papers, contribute a couple of quirky sideways sound bites concerning at the news, and then every fifteen minutes pop into the studio and read out some updates on the state of the roads, whilst remembering not to say ‘fuck’ on air (the sanctity of the control room is a different matter – it was like a Yorkshire navvies’ convention in there at times).
That my super-ego was taking it seriously can be inferred from the classic pre-exam anxiety dream from which I woke at three in the morning, the developing scenario having progressed to the point where I had imagined that Breakfast Show host Terry Baxter had not turned up and that Simon had stepped in and was presenting the show in the face of an ever more serious spiral of technical mishaps until, Nero-like, he pulled out a violin and started playing a mournful air amidst the collapsing studio soundproofing, giving the show the aspect of the dinner party scene at the end of Carry On Up The Khyber. It wasn’t until I remembered that Si can’t actually play the violin that I was stirred from my slumber. I know, and you’d think being in the studio naked apart from a dressing gown would have triggered a reaction first, wouldn’t you?
Thanks to astute time management, gentle praise and the generous dispensation of tips and tricks from The I-Spy Presenters’ Book of Making It Look Easy by the regulars I managed to at least give the impression of someone who knew what they were doing, even though I didn’t get to broadcast my pre-prepared introductory shtick regarding the late substitution (“Simon can’t be here as he is currently in lockdown at a Mayan Apocalypse-proof bunker in the West Midlands, which has been stocked almost entirely with Bovril and Fray Bentos steak and kidney pies”) and I also didn’t get to throw in his trademark “You know me, Terry – I love a survey” in tribute to my mentor. I remarked on this slight regret as I repeatedly pressed F5 on the keyboard controlling the travel computer monitor, trying for a last update on the burgeoning crisis on the Chelmsford by-pass before close of play. “You should get your own catchphrase” he said, mentally trying one on for size. “Had you considered finishing your reports with ‘…and it’s all quiet on the trains…TADAAAH!’?” I admitted that I hadn’t, but would certainly consider it in case of any future engagements.
“Is he being paid for sitting around out there?” queried Terry at one point. I relayed this to a reflective Simon. “My role, you see…” he began “…is very much like that of a fire fighter. There may well be long periods of inactivity, but when the call comes I have to leap instantly into action, keeping pace with the intensity of developments whilst at all times maintaining an untroubled exterior, inspiring confidence in others and providing a beacon of calm amidst the brouhaha. This is how I regard my role, be it ever so humble. That…” he concluded “…or as being like one of the Thunderbird pilots”.