Even if you’re not a thespian, you must have heard about ‘first night nerves’, but when you are a seasoned thesp, it becomes apparent that first night nerves are actually a God send. The adrenalin pumps, the brain focuses, the middle distance disappears and off you go. It’s the second night that’s the bitch. Concentration is down. The adrenalin is more under control. There’s ever such a slight smugness that you’ve got over the hump and BLAHM!, that’s when those mistakes creep in.
I turned up to LBC, which is situated on Latimer Road, near Shepherds Bush, and only fifteen minutes from my flat. The traffic was easy, but already I was taking liberties. Instead of having my brief case – I’ve used it for years it’s made out of red plastic and kept together with good will and gaffer tape – I had a flimsy purple folder I’d bought in Waitrose. I had scant notes, three different coloured pens (red, blue and black) as well as a lovely pencil from ‘Scramble’, the sound studio I voice ‘Heat’ ads in.
I had my purse with a little money, my car keys and my phone. I was travelling light. I drove to reception and picked up the plastic key to let me into the car park. When the black end is inserted, wrought iron gates, with fierce barbed wire rolled atop of them, open very slowly. Yesterday I tried inserting the red end and sat there for 10 minutes wondering why I couldn’t get in
I parked my car, buzzed to get into reception, flirted with the Greek receptionist, who looks like my cousin Malcolm Hoppen, father of Zoe with whom I spent some time in San Diego, and was greeted by Steve Campden and Chris Lowrie, my producer and engineer.
I felt like an old timer, having been there for precisely one day as I skipped up to the second floor. It felt less strange but not yet familiar. Anna Raeburn was at her desk, all intent and intelligent. She told me I looked nicer with my hair down and suggested, rather than dictated, that I should keep back from the mike. This was endorsed by Steve, who told me that sitting back in the chair was wrong. Sitting forward on the chair was wrong. But sitting in the middle was right. Steve had told me that before but it had gone right over my head. See, second day and you think you know everything until…
Scott, the programme director, gave me a little book called ‘The little book of BIG conversation.’
‘Radio is all about ‘YOU’, he stressed. ‘Telly is all about US.’ His self-penned book is about the intimacy of radio and how to form a relationship with YOU out there. So I asked Steve to stick a ‘YOU’ sticker on my purple folder.
I used my computer, for the first time, with very own password to get info on American Dolls, and then up I went to another studio to do a trail with Jim Davis. Jim is tall, dark, and yes you’ve guessed it, handsome, he’s lovely…
I should say here that everybody has been so supportive and helpful, unlike TV where most people are back biting or shoving their own clip boards up their own bottoms.
Jim Davis was a music jock for twelve years and told me the main difference between talk radio and his prior existence is pace. ‘TALK SLOWLY’, he said. Not easy. Panic always make me – well, most people actually – rattle out words like a speed train clattering along the rails.
The studio, after day one, felt a little more familar, although to be honest I couldn’t describe it to you. I’m still unaware of my surroundings and still looking for my bits as well as approval. I need to know I am doing okay. They need me to do okay otherwise they look like weedy wets who have made a wrong decision.
I laid out all me bits in order of priority and it was off to the canteen for a pre show bite. I attempted a plate of green salad which I ate with my fingers. Steve offered my a plastic knife and fork but I preferred my own digits.
I met up with Lee Janogly, whose married name comes from Georgia where they have one of the World’s longest life spans. I put it down to Hunza apricots. Lee didn’t put it down to anything. Then, just before 1.00pm, it was a sprint up to the third floor for the show.
Everybody has a pass, which they press against an infra red light which opens the door. Once in, there are buttons to press to let yourself out again. So far I have forgotten my pass and forgotten the button-pressing procedure. I’m surprised I’m here to tell the tale.
I reshuffled all my pieces of paper, left my socks rolled up for my first gag, and off we went. The studio is cold so I pulled on my socks at the top of the show bumping into the mike for maximum effect.
One running order was in front of me, one to the left of me. I kept yesterday’s copy as a security blanket, and one on a screen to the right of me. I had so many notes, pens, pencils and scraps of paper, it was like looking for a needle in a haystack in a barn where the overhead light has blown and the generator has stopped working due to atmospheric interference.
The show started. Lee Janogly was great, talking about weight issues and binge eating. The phones started up and I took my cues PERFECTLY until the second night nerves kicked in. Inevitably, I completely lost my way. I sent us to ad breaks where there weren’t any ads, handed over to traffic updates where there were no cars, re-read emails that we had already discussed and practically lost my headphones in the process. I could only hear out of my right earphone, since the left one is left off so that you can hear yourself speak, which I could. I just couldn’t hear myself think.
Steven, behind the glass said, ‘No, we’re not at the break yet’ with a hint of hysteria in his voice. Whilst all the while Steve Allen, he with the acid tongue was waiting to have a pop. And he will – at my lack of professionalism, and posh voice, which may I add is the result of working in my thespy industry for nearly forty years.
When I arrived at drama school in1965 I was told, categorically that my East End intonation was merely another dialect and would JUST not do. I had to learn The Queens English, recieved pronunciation and how to stop that wretched slang before I started.
So, for years I’ve been dotting my ‘i’s and glottally stopping my ‘t’s before anybody could accuse me of coming from the dreaded working classes, which of course I do. And to add insult to injury I am also a bloomin’ immigrant, coming here and taking your jobs…
Now, of course, the estuary twang is a la mode, but if I’m nervous, I resort to my drama school training and sound like Joanna Lumley on acid.
By the end of the show, the second night curse had really taken hold. I was cutting off callers, finishing their sentences, speaking on their behalf and totally wrapping up the airwaves with confusion although with a lot of good will.
Now, though, after two days I honestly feel I have found a new spiritual home. There’s something satisfying about hearing people talk, letting them talk (which I haven’t done enough of yet) and then hearing them laugh.
So, dear Mr. Allen, budge up on the settee. The old girl is nuzzling up next to you. Not that I could possibly compete with your badinage, savage wit or blue-sequined jacket. Although, would I want to?
I’m off now to Lavender Hill for a troll and then my acupuncturist for some needles. Day three looms – another kettle of fish altogether. That’s normally when, after two days of thinking you’re getting it right, you completely fall off the edge. Should be fun listening. It’s like learning to drive – stop, start, stop, start. Right now I can nearly do a reverse, but I’m having trouble with my 17 point turns.
Wish me luck, and Marmite Girl, thank you for emailing in – this cross pollination of mediums is fab. That’s it for today. Cu2morrer.