Steve Clark

30.01.03

7am Minus three degrees and thick snow. Made the mistake of coming home to the Midlands last night instead of staying in the London flat. A two-hour train journey might now take days.

I board Chiltern Railways for Marylebone armed with 10 national newspapers, a hot chocolate and a bag of crisps. Folks with laptops, spreadsheets and calculators eye me with resentment. Thursday is a show night and there’s not a lot of news around.

I’ve decided the Littlejohn programme will be a Victoria Climbie-free zone. Viewers will have had enough of the tragedy by 8pm. Some stories provoke possibilities. There’s one about a man who went into hospital with a stomach complaint and came out with a Guinness world record after spending 77 hours on a trolley. We had already lined him up the night before. He was a definite for the studio.

The sexual offences bill – let me get this right: sex in the cornfield with your girlfriend could get you six months, but gay sex in a public toilet is all right – as long as the door’s shut? Yes, that could make a Littlejohn item too.

9.30am The train’s on time. I’m in Sky’s Millbank offices before 10am. The team meets in my office for our first meeting of the day. All the papers, radio shows, Sky News and BBC News 24 have been scoured.

We go for sex; NHS trolley man; a debate on whether Britain is best served by the US rather than the EU; and a sports item on why so many foreign Premier League players are being paid £25k-plus a week to do nothing. Overpaid, underplayed and over here. We’ll also do an extended item, “Nice Work If You Can Get It”, on how councils, etc, always find the money to create new jobs – especially management posts. We’ll ask where was the money to grit our roads this morning?

2pm Time to write. Richard Littlejohn and I have “perfected” an e-mail method of preparing the scripts before he arrives at around 4pm. I send the facts, he sends the links, which I insert into the running order. I love writing and, rumour has it, so does he. Inevitably we squabble over the words but somehow it works.

6.30pm We’re behind schedule for checks and rehearsals. Richard was late because London’s roads seized up in the big freeze and we then spent too long adjusting scripts on autocue.

7.55pm Disaster! Five minutes to on air and Simon Barnes, my number two, tells me our trolley man isn’t going to make it for the show. Having spent 77 hours on a trolley, he’s so far spent five hours on the M4 and is now stuck at Heathrow in the snow. Is he jinxed?

7.58pm Twenty-five per cent of the show is lost. Time to rejig the running order and revisit our timings. Move sex into the lead item and try to switch the satellite booking to Washington to an earlier time. I tell Richard: “Houston, we have a problem. Just handle the items as I say so through the ear piece. We’re throwing the running order away.” He just nods calmly, which unnerves me.

8pm On air with the sex item. I’ve moved the US v EU debate up to second item – due up in 10 minutes.

8.05pm Only one guest out of three has so far arrived for the US item. Matthew Parris is still missing, somewhere in a BBC studio. Our American guest has his own weather problems in Washington. Five minutes to go.

8.10pm I tell Richard to keep the sex debate going. He’s unflappable and keeps it going another five minutes.

8.15pm The first commercial break. We’re due back on in two minutes. Still only one guest in London. No sign of our man in Washington yet. I can’t switch item three to item two because neither of those guests have arrived either. London is gridlocked.

I ponder about going into the foetal position and sobbing. Then Matthew Parris walks into the studio. I feel like hugging him, but think better of it.

8.20pm The US debate begins just as our Washington guest arrives. He’s ready to contribute, but the sound has failed. I tell Richard to keep the chat going between the London studio guests. Horror! They seem to be agreeing with each other. That wasn’t the plan.

Richard keeps the two-man debate going into the second break. Still no sound from Washington. I tell Richard to say we’ll return to the debate after the break with more from Washington.

8.32pm We have sound from Washington. Our guest firmly believes the UK should abandon Europe and join NAFTA. He dismisses the French as “cheese-munching surrender monkeys”. I wonder if it was such a good idea to restore sound.

8.45pm The three-man debate is good and we let it run into the third break. Great but now the PA says we’re running over. Time to drop and cut. Like I said, we threw the running order away long ago.

8.50pm Into a recorded vox pop on whether we really care about the Zo’ and Fat Boy split, into “Nice Work….”, into a row with football agent Eric Hall and a West Ham fan on overpaid footballers and then goodnight.

9pm It’s over and I can’t remember the show. I ring my wife. Richard rings his. We don’t tell them about the chaos behind the scenes and they both liked the show. So did everyone else who didn’t know. Me? I’m getting too old for all this. Off to the bar with the team for trebles all round.

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