Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 26 November 2014

the man who

floats on air

Panorama and Radio 2 presenter Jeremy Vine hopes he hasn't ruffled the feathers of too many of his colleagues who feature in his waspish, witty memoir marking his 25 years at the BBC.

The award-winning broadcaster, famously referred to as "mini me" in Jeremy Paxman circles (the veteran interviewer allegedly held up his little finger to indicate Vine's status during his three-year stint on Newsnight), is now in calmer waters, he hopes.

"I just feel I should talk about what it's like to work in this crazy place. Where possible, I've consulted people on what I'm writing," he says.

Judging by his book, It's All News To Me, the world of the BBC is a cut-throat, bitchy place with ambitious presenters quick to muscle in when colleagues look set for the chop.

Does he worry about his own longevity? "Presenters work on the basis that they have a short and happy life," he shrugs.

"All journalists understand that we are not as important as the story. In broadcasting particularly, presenters get carried away with the idea that they are more important than they really are. We are born lucky, we have great jobs." Vine (47) , admits he would be lying if he said he didn't worry that he will one day be dumped from his Radio 2 lunchtime show.

"The two phases of the career are the 'get' phase and the 'keep' phase. In the first half you're trying to get everything and in the second half you're trying to keep it. You do get presenters who are very successful but also very paranoid about their position."

Having joined the Beeb aged just 22 after training as a journalist on the Coventry Evening Telegraph, by 24 he was reporting on Europe for Radio 4's Today programme.

His memoir is awash with anecdotes of BBC bigwigs, reporters and political correspondents who would jostle for position.

When Vine joined the BBC team at Westminster, John Sergeant was top dog and had a way of putting people down.

He was a master of 'support-sabotage' remarks, of which Vine was sometimes a victim.

When Vine boasted to him one day that he'd been the youngest person ever to present Today on Radio 4, Sergeant apparently retorted: "You don't want to be the youngest, Jeremy. You want to be the oldest."

Vine writes: "Another time I learned he had observed, 'Vine is excellent; his sense of judgment will come'. Only the second half counted, obviously."

Then there was the Newsnight episode. When Vine was taken on as the third presenter, alongside Paxman and Kirsty Wark, he was asked by the show's editor to keep a low profile when Paxman was around, following several newspaper articles, one of which called him Paxman's 'heir apparent'.

Behind the scenes the comment had caused ructions between Paxman's agent, the BBC press office and the programme. Before long, a diary piece reported that Paxman had referred to Vine as "mini me" behind the scenes, a nickname which stuck.

Vine says that at the time he was upset by the whole debacle. "I had thought, this is the best job in the world, but then it all suddenly went wrong for me. But I look back now and I think it worked out brilliantly. I saw him (Paxman) the other day. He popped into my studio because he was in for Steve Wright and he was very friendly. These things iron themselves out. For me, being the other Jeremy on Newsnight was a kind of non-starter. I don't know why I even did it.

"But then Radio 2 came up and that's a perfect fit for me. I have a huge respect for Paxman. We're not really friends, we don't hang out together. But we are certainly friendly."

For a long time he didn't really make any friends at the BBC while he was working his way up through the ranks.

"It's funny, I was just beavering away. Then when I was on the Today programme, I realised everyone used to go to the pub and it was only after three years on the programme that I realised there was a pub. Then someone wrote this profile about me saying I'd been banned from the Today programme in-house rock band because I was too clean-cut. And I didn't even know there was a rock band. So I think I was pretty square for a long time."

He has made a few close friends since, including BBC anchorman George Alagiah and producer Milton Nkosi, and he now goes down the pub with his colleagues from time to time, he laughs.

The most common question Vine is asked is how he refrains from giving his own opinion on his Radio 2 debate show, which he has hosted for nine years after replacing Jimmy Young in 2003, in another stormy episode detailed in the book.

"It's the ticket to doing the show that you mustn't air your views but it's complicated, because I do think you need to have values."

So how does he vent his anger? "I go home and watch the football - and let the steam come out of my ears," he laughs.

He also enjoys valuable time with his family: wife Rachel Schofield, a BBC News presenter, and daughters Martha (8) and Anna (5) at their home in west London.

His best interview moment was during the 2010 election campaign, when he played the then Prime Minister Gordon Brown the Gillian Duffy 'bigoted woman' recording. Brown apologised publicly and Vine won a Sony award.

But there are times throughout his career when he's been lost for words or dried up, he admits.

"My rule is, if you are interviewing somebody and you completely and utterly lose the thread, just say, 'And what about the money?' That will always work as a question."

Born in Epsom, Surrey, the son of a lecturer, Vine's brother is the comedian Tim and his sister Sonya is an actress and artist. Their young lives revolved around the local church and Vine is still a strong Anglican, although he doesn't publicise his views.

"It comes into the same category as not wanting to talk about being a Chelsea fan. If I have to do a debate about football or about religion and I've already expressed to people what my view is, it starts to skew the discussion.

"If you become quite forthright about one particular thing, whether it's cycling or Chelsea or Christianity, you then almost become a discussion guest on your own show."

He may have been a political correspondent but he wouldn't go into politics, he says.

"I have a very soft spot for politicians, because in the end somebody's got to do the job. But when I was at Westminster I found the closer I got to politics, the less I believed in a clear answer to anything. I couldn't see how the ideology worked. And I don't know which party I'd join."

You can tell just from listening to Vine that he still has a child-like enthusiasm for the job, although he's unsure where his career will go.

"I used to have all these jobs in mind but then I realised you can't really plan anything in this organisation because a career is just a series of accidents."

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