As easy as driving a car, the BBC said. But I don’t drive, I replied
PUBLISHED: 08:19 08 April 2018
A chance encounter gives Keith Skipper the chance to renew an old BBC acquaintance.
Links with your past turn up in the most unlikely of places. Even if you are most reluctant to be there in the first instance …
Let me preface a heart-warming reunion story with a blunt admission of how much I dislike shopping, apart from investing hard-earned pocket money and well-deserved gift tokens in a few more books for my sagging shelves.
There’s the odd occasion, however, when my conscience is stirred by a gentle reminder that I play a significant role in sampling results of the weekly sortie along supermarket aisles without knowing what they are until mealtimes call.
Fair point, I mutter, and gird my loins for a trip into the comparative unknown. My trolley skills are just below basic, especially on passing manoeuvres, and I spend far too much time looking at the faces and mannerisms of customers about 50 times grumpier than me.
I feel like asking for a bonus at the check-out if I’ve avoided meringue-crushing and potato-mashing collisions and telling members of the North Norfolk MOB (Miserable Old Beggars) to try smiling in front of a mirror before they risk meeting people different to them.
There we are, then, coasting towards the bleeping till on a conveyor belt of utter relief and cosy thoughts of weekend retail therapy avoidance. I prepare bags for packing, inform the invariably-cheerful assistant not to go too fast and wonder if that agitated chap near the bread counter has found the “bloomer” he was hunting for.
Suddenly, a man behind us in the queue throws me a long quizzical stare. Perhaps he wants to know how I manage to shove so many items of awkward sizes into one container without causing a landslide. Or why someone so clearly out of his comfort zone bothers to pretend he knows what he’s doing.
He strolls towards me, breaks into a telling grin and asks if I’m Keith Skipper. There’s nowhere to hide in a check-out area and I don’t feel like drawing even more attention to my packing ineptitude. I nod in the affirmative.
“Well, last time we met you said you couldn’t drive a car.” The penny dropped immediately. Years melted away. I was back at The Langham, then the BBC’s London training centre in Portland Place, preparing for the opening of Radio Norfolk in 1980.
“Jeff Link!” I exclaimed, some of the delight spilling over into gratitude for a golden excuse to miss the last lap of bag-filling. A King’s Lynn lad and lifelong radio fan, he brought much-needed encouragement to a trainee wireless broadcaster with a strong brand of technological dyslexia.
They dubbed it a basic training course stretching over five weeks. I had been appointed a producer at the new station in homely Norfolk, presumably on the strength of my local roots, newsgathering experience on this and associated papers and relish for a good mardle.
It came as major shock to be confronted in the capital by something akin to the controls of a brand-new supersonic jet waiting for lift-off. Jeff introduced me to the Neve Mixing Desk, the studio panel with faders, volume adjustors and a set of peak programme meters to ensure the Radio Norfolk transmitters were not overloaded.
Bemused looks and twitching fingers informed our patient and amiable trainer he might have some way to go in enlightening my darkness. Multi-skilling was a fair bit off my radar. Jeff went for a simple analogy to calm nerves.
“Just think of operating the panel as driving a car. You probably found learning difficult to start with but then after a little practice everything fell into place and you were almost doing it automatically”..”
My response was short, honest and destined to become a sort of BBC catchphrase for the vagaries of Norfolk: “But I don’t drive a bloomin’ car!” Jeff took it as just another challenge on my rollercoaster ride to opening day. He got through enough times by then to allow me to get on- and off-air without blowing anything up.
His illustrious BBC career dating from 1965 also included posts as studio manager and producer before he set up his own multimedia production company in 2002. He was back in Norfolk to visit a friend in Sheringham.
Sorry, Jeff, but I still don’t drive a car. So, if you ever need a lift to the supermarket, try someone with the core skills.