This is the text of the speech I gave on winning Audio Presenter of the Year at the Broadcasting Press Guild Awards 2020 at the Guildhall, London. I’d like to add my thanks to producers and editors Jon Tolansky and Simon Pitts, who’ve both supported me and made such wonderful programmes with me.
Thankyou – I didn’t think anything could top meeting Hartley Hare at the Writers’ Guild Awards. But I think this does.
It’s an honour to be nominated alongside such great presenters. And especially to be recognised by journalists and critics. All I’ve ever asked is to be judged on my own abilities and to be given equal opportunities. Thankyou so much to the broadcasting press guild and to all my interviewees for coming on.
As a little kid I used to make my own radio shows with a tape recorder. So this will mean a lot to that child. I was seriously going to apply for the job of Director General but I think I might wait till next time on that. My heart is in broadcasting.
Thanks to my great school teachers Miss Charlton, Frau Harris, Mrs Kirman and Mrs Wilson, to all my tutors at St Edmund Hall, Oxford Reggie Alton, Bruce Mitchell and Lucy Newlyn who inspired me, valued me, and taught me the importance of critical thinking. To my teachers on the BBC news trainee scheme: Phil Ashworth, Sarah Bulling, Rona Christie, Peter Dorling and Simon Lloyd – who gave me an absolutely amazing entry into broadcasting.
My agent Sue Ayton and the team at Knight Ayton management.
Thanks to producer Farah Jassat who’s here and Intelligence Squared who developed HIFMV and thought of me to present it. I love working with you.
Simon Guerrier who’s here – with whom I’ve tackled Oliver Cromwell’s wife, HG Wells and the H Bomb, John Ruskin’s dancing girls and Victorian lesbian tomb raiders. You and Thomas Guerrier your brother and fellow producer stretch me creatively every time we work together. You also forced me to wear a corset.
All those who’ve supported me at Front Row and BBC radio. Mohit Bakaya, Philip Sellars the editor who brought me on board at Front Row. All the production team, especially Ekene Awalawu, Tim Prosser and Hannah Robins who produced the Germaine Greer special. Thanks to the amazing studio managers who’ve been so creative. And the broadcasting assistants.
And the kind security staff and the cleaners and cafe staff who all have been so supportive of me over the last few months. These are the people who make up the backbone of the BBC.
The brilliant creative Luke Doran at Radio 4 Extra with whom I’ve tackled the faces on the Sergeant Pepper album, why Carry on Films are better than Shakespeare and what I’d give James Bond for Christmas. And Belinda Naylor who produced our Sisters in Satire special on women in radio comedy for Radio 4 Extra.
Sandi Toksvig, Lyndsey Fenner and Jeremy Hardy who welcomed me into the family on the News Quiz. Jeremy would have had so much fun at my employment tribunal. I miss you my friend.
But there are a couple of BBC names that stand out. The biggest in my career is Tony Phillips who is here and who as commissioner of Radio 4 and World Service Arts encouraged me and championed me within the BBC and recommended me for Front Row. You’ve always been a champion of new voices, too. You’d be an amazing DG, and if you aren’t then whoever the new DG is should be doing all they can to get you back.
And there’s my friend and fellow BBC broadcaster Matthew Sweet whose friendship has been one of the best things in my life since we and Simon Guerrier first crossed paths at that screening of Daleks Invasion Earth 2150 AD with the Bernard Cribbins Q&A. Bernard Cribbins, I thank you too.
My dad and mum taught me the value of hard work and fair play. And my mother never to be afraid. My mother who used to take me to Bush House and Pebble Mill with her as a small child and showed me the camaraderie of the staff who made the programmes who believe in public service.
Who juggled her own life as an actress and broadcaster with motherhood. And Like so many other mothers of broadcasters, took care of my children so I could work. Thankyou to all the mothers and the unpaid labour that gets radio and television made.
My parents remember the days when there were signs in windows that said no blacks no Irish no dogs.
The BBC had a ban on broadcasting the fascist Oswald Mosley till 1968. I’m not talking about banning. But after the end of the nonsense of false equivalence over climate change it’s time all broadcasters thought long and hard about the right to hold the moral line on not normalising racism and prejudice. It doesn’t compromise our journalistic balance. I know it’s not easy in the current climate when the enemies of the BBC are on the attack again. But the BBC belongs to all of us and has a responsibility to protect all of us, including the most vulnerable. We need to stand against normalising such views.
Last year I was privileged to spend several weeks travelling around Iran making a BBC4 TV documentary series about understanding modern Iranians through the history of Persian Culture. It took 2 years to get the visas. It goes out in June. It’s exactly the kind of cultural diplomacy and programming that only the BBC could do and persevered in doing. Thankyou Mark Hedgecoe for getting me to present it and to everyone who’s worked with me on it through BBC Studios. We need to stand up for the best of the BBC and reform the areas that need reforming. I think listeners and viewers understand that.
So finally and more than anyone I’d like to thank all the listeners and viewers, especially Radio 4 listeners, who care passionately about culture, about the truth, about standing up to power. It’s an honour and a privilege to present the shows I do. I never take you for granted. And I always think about you every time I write a script or ask a question.
And I’d like to accept this award on behalf of all the immigrants who raised children like me. To all our mums and dads who helped make this country great. Thankyou.