Before joining ITN in 1963, I worked for Reuters for ten years in Germany, the Middle East and Africa. So I knew I was a pretty good foreign correspondent. But every time I contemplated standing in front of a camera and spouting a few trenchant words, I had a nasty bout of butterflies in the stomach.
On my second or third day in the office, I was asked to cut my teeth on the Post Office Exhibition, which in that particular year was celebrating the opening of the new, round-the-world submarine cable. It was the sort of boring, eminently droppable story they gave you on your first assignment.
My cameraman was an ex-newsreel stalwart called Jackie Howard, who made up in irascibility what he lacked in inches; his soundman, Frank McNally, was equally opinionated, I soon discovered, and they started arguing as soon as we drove off in the camera car.
But once he had put poor old Frank firmly in his place – as cameramen like to do with soundmen – Jackie exuded bonhomie, inducting me into the arcane mysteries of filming, and good-naturedly demonstrating GVs (general views), close-ups and cutaways. All went effortlessly, only the interview remaining. The man in charge of the exhibition was standing by nervously, running his finger round the inside of his collar.
‘Where are we going to do the interview, Jackie?’ I asked, feeling the butterflies taking wing in my stomach. ‘Somewhere quiet,’ I added beseechingly. About two hundred people were filing round the big room, peering at the various exhibits. Jackie drew himself up to his full height of five feet, five inches and bellowed: ‘Quiet please, everybody. We’re going to record an interview.’
A hush fell on the room and every-one turned to stare. I found myself fervently wishing the old cliché would come true: that the ground really would open at my feet and swallow me up.
‘Ready when you are, Mr DeMille,’ Jackie boomed, enjoying being the centre of attention.
My hand shook so much that I could hardly hold the microphone, a large, awkwardly-shaped, bulbous monstrosity. I stammered some inane question. The interviewee started to gabble furiously. I found myself unable to concentrate on what he was saying, aware that two hundred people were listening to every word.
Eventually I heard myself saying ‘Thank you very much, Mr So-and-so…’ He stared at me disbelievingly. ‘I believe you were every bit as nervous as I was,’ he said loudly. I pretended to laugh off such a silly remark. But, to my shame, I knew he was right. At that moment, I hated myself, and I hated television even more.