I’m playing truant or so it feels. Since I became Panorama’s editor three years ago this month, too much of my time has been spent in an office block suffering from what must be the architectural equivalent of a charisma bypass. But today I’ve escaped to Glasgow to see the rough-cut of Crack UK, a film made with BBC Scotland.
Before the viewing there is more banter than usual. We’ve just won a Mental Health Media award and the citation recognises the public impact of Panorama’s films on Seroxat and praises Shelley Jofre’s interviewing. So we are all grateful to be in the same edit suite as Shelley today and can’t let her forget she can now call herself an “award-winning journalist”. Andy Bell, one of my two talented deputies, will stay across this programme as it comes together and I’ll see this film just once more.
8.30am Third viewing of a sixthmonth investigation into policing. We make three or four films a year with the BBC’s Nations and Regions and this film has been made with BBC Wales. There are several outstanding editorial issues to resolve and, as we wrestle with the structure, we are aware that there is another session with our lawyer on Monday.
The afternoon is just one meeting after another. Good news on one project, setbacks on others, normal for so many jobs. Late on I see the final edit of Sunday’s programme. For one night only we’ve cribbed the format of University Challenge. The guests debate the Government’s ambition for 50 per cent of people to enjoy higher education, but as the credits role, you see another vision facing the young in Britain, a trail for next week’s programme on crack.
Outside, I bump into John Ware, also heading home. Two men with their bicycles standing in a cold wind discussing the Panorama pegged to Lord Hutton’s findings. It’s 10pm on Friday. Perhaps I should have attended one of those seminars on work-life balance.
England v South Africa. For a long time, today has been marked in my diary as a day not to work. As I enjoy this weekend off, the Sweet Chariot inches closer to that elusive cup. In the papers, the fallout continues from last week’s Panorama on some of the human costs of the Vatican’s conservative teaching on sex.
The listings make grim reading when you care about Panorama. Since the move to Sunday, our audience has held up well, averaging three million (compared with 3.4 million for the last year on a Monday) but this evening ITV is playing the second half of Henry V111 and Five screens Gladiators. Both start at 21.00 and continue throughout Panorama. Last week Henry V111 – the first couple of wives – won an audience share of 30 per cent plus.
Since changes in broadcasting legislation in the early Nineties, programmes such as Panorama can always be targeted wherever they are placed in the schedule and there are no ideal slots for current affairs.
For the past decade or more, one man has played a key role in the success of Panorama’s TV journalism. Our programme lawyer shuns the limelight but deserves an award.
Today we continue discussing our investigation into the failings of South Wales Police, a programme that may have considerable impact. The producer is Stephen Scott, who made The Corruption of Racing. BBC One’s controller calls to compliment the innovation in last night’s programme and to consider a special slot for a powerful Panorama on the friendly fire tragedy that left 16 dead, including a BBC translator. It might so easily have killed John Simpson, Panorama producer Tom Giles and others of the BBC team.
Much of the day is spent with a blank sheet of paper and Panorama deputy editors Sam Collyns and Andy Bell. We are considering which films we might commission for next year and programme ideas from the Panorama team, independent producers and viewers. Editing Panorama is one of the best jobs in TV. You inherit a trusted brand with dedicated airtime and resources and you work with a team of some of the most determined and thorough programme makers in the country.
By the end of our short “away day” we feel confident that millions will see and read about what we have now written on that blank sheet of paper, though our unit manager will once again be left wondering how we will fund all our ambitions.
Back in the office, a routine meeting with the head of current affairs and an opportunity to consider sensitive issues in upcoming programmes and some mundane management matters.
Every Wednesday lunchtime we meet as a team to discuss ideas, the previous Sunday’s programme and parish notices. Every fortnight we also review a nominated programme.
Today it’s ONE life, the new documentary strand that has been attracting good audiences. We debate the approach and what we might learn from it, but there is an obvious problem: ONE life promises some kind of happy resolution and, as a rule, Panorama doesn’t do redemption.
Much of the day is spent with a team who have been investigating how society cares for people in their own homes and the way the Government plans to develop provision for the elderly. We have filmed much of it secretly and, given the sensitivities, we have appreciated considerable advice and support from BBC editorial policy and our lawyer. I am certain that, when the film is shown next month, we will be seen to have acted sensitively and in the public interest.
Home late again after half of Panorama’s development team – a slightly grand title for two strong assistant producers on a job share – takes me to a meeting to assess a possible programme for next year.
Just another week and, despite compromises over work-life balance, the variety remains an attraction of working on one of the strongest brands in British journalism.