Monday, 27 July 2015

When the man from the Beeb came to Cromer

Post-show group photo!
Picture the scene. It's around 11am in the morning, I'm sitting in my bedroom, listening to BBC Radio Norfolk. Nick Conrad, the station's morning show presenter, has left the studio for what he's termed a "Pop-Up Conrad" show, the idea being that he travels to various parts of the county and finds new places to present his show.

This particular morning saw him presenting his show from Aylsham Market Place. During one particular segment he's talking to various people who happen to be passing by the spot where his radio car is parked, and there's one memorable moment where he talks to an old boy who thought he'd been banned because he was taken off air for saying the word "bitch" during a phone-in. Nick and Edd (the show's aptly-named editor) then tell their audience that they're looking to do more Pop-Up Conrad shows in the future, and they want their listeners to send in their ideas.

It was then that I had the proverbial light bulb moment. "Hullo.", I thought to myself. "I think I know a place where they could do their show!"

A couple of days later I arrived at the Henry Blogg Museum in Cromer for my usual Saturday afternoon shift. I've been volunteering there for about three years. At first it was just to give a boost to my CV in my seemingly ever-lasting attempt to find employment, but after a very short while I realised that I really enjoyed working there.

One of the first things I did was look for our esteemed manager, Jacqui Palmer. After we exchanged our usual pleasantries I told Jacqui I had an idea that would get the museum some publicity. I laid down my ingenious plan, to ask Nick Conrad if he was interested in presenting his show from the museum. Jacqui was all for the idea and asked me to e-mail the show.

The invite left my desktop PC a few hours later, winging it's way to the BBC's local headquarters in Norwich. I didn't know if Nick and his team were familiar with the museum, so I sent them a link to the museum's website as well. I also suggested that they shouldn't come on a Friday because they wouldn't get to do the Rolling Quiz. (For those who don't know the Rolling Quiz is a segment Nick presents in the final hour of his show every Friday. It's kind of like a "winner stays on" game of pool. Nick claims to hate the thing, bit I think he secretly loves every minute of it.)

A couple of days later I got a reply from Edd the Ed thanking me for my invite, and after e-mailing Jacqui telling her of the deed I waited. In truth I thought it would be ages before they contacted the museum, mainly because one morning they said they'd had dozens and dozens of invites.

So you can imagine my surprise when, just a few short weeks later, I arrived for my Saturday afternoon shift and was told by Jacqui that Nick and his team would be at the museum the following Thursday.

To be honest the first thing I felt was surprise that they'd chosen to come to the museum so quickly. But that quickly changed to a sense of pride that what I thought was a great idea was quickly coming to fruition. That pride got a little bit greater when Jacqui e-mailed all the volunteers to let them know about the show and thanking me for setting the thing up.

With all of this praise coming my way and with a great deal of anticipation I knew that I couldn't stay away from the museum on that day. Besides, I'd never seen a radio show put together before, and I thought it would be interesting to see how the Beeb works.

I turned up at the museum the following Thursday at 8.30am, about thirty minutes before the show was due to start. Carolyn Aldridge, the museum's temporary manager who'd been helping out while Jacqui had been away on family business, had been there for an hour, having had to let Nick and his team in so they could set up their equipment. When I arrived I found Jacqui and Nick chatting on the gallery. I soon caught Mr. Conrad's eye and introduced myself, saying that I couldn't really stay away as I was the one who'd got them in that mess in the first place.

We chatted for a few minutes while the final preparations for the show took place before I began to look around at some of the equipment they'd be using to get the show back to Norwich. There was a big electronic box-type thing in the room where the old radio equipment was display, a few antennas on the balcony fence, a cable going from the big box into the internet router in the office, and another going out of the office window.

I then tagged along as Nick went over how he was going to start the show and what he wanted Jacqui to do. I then grabbed the museum's camera, intent on capturing several moments for posterity, as Nick and Edd made they way out onto the promenade for the start of their show.

A few seconds before my Radio Norfolk debut!
So after Nick told his listeners what was in store for the day's show he finally made his way into the museum, closely followed by Edd and his clipboard with many pages, as Jacqui began to show them around the museum, educating Nick and his listeners about the RNLI's most decorated lifeboat man, while yours truly took a few snaps.

A brief break followed after a few moments when Edd asked me how my name was pronounced. I told him. I didn't occur to me at all why he wanted to know until a few seconds later, because when they came back from the traffic or weather or whatever it was I found myself standing in front of a Radio Norfolk presenter with a microphone poked under my nose.

Now when I originally came up with this plan I had absolutely no intention of actually appearing on air. As far as I was concerned just e-mailing Nick and inviting him to the museum was enough for me. I was more than happy to let others appear on air. Mr. Conrad, however, had other plans. I was the reason he was at the museum, and he wanted me to tell everyone why he was there.

Before I go on let me tell you something. I'm really not that comfortable in front of a camera or speaking publicly before a large group of people, despite my extensive customer service training. It's why I've never launched a wrestling-related podcast of my own, despite the fact that I've been a fan for most of my life and a wrestling blogger for over fifteen years.

But when Nick asked me a question live on air I knew immediately that there was no way of getting out of it. I also knew that I didn't have time for nerves. Nick asked me who I was, why I was a volunteer at the museum, and why I'd invited him. So I went into job interview mode (I'd had a ton of practice recently) and answered the questions to the best of my ability. I even managed to praise the museum and it's staff, including Jacqui. My only regret was that nobody was taking a photo of this. But then again, Jacqui couldn't take one because I had the camera!

Jacqui talking to Nick about the great man.
I thought that would be the only time I'd be called upon, but it wasn't. The show continued as we made our way around the museum. As Jacqui continued to tell her stories Nick set up an impromptu quiz, asking people to text in if they could guess from her accent what part of Scotland she came from, and after we made our way onto the gallery overlooking Henry Blogg's legendary World War II lifeboat H.F. Bailey Nick asked me to describe what they were seeing on air.

I described the scene as best as I could before we briefly discussed the great man himself. I gave Nick my views on Mr. Blogg, describing him as a "reluctant celebrity" by modern day standards. (Those of you who know the history of Cromer's lifeboats will know what I mean).

Thus concluded my somewhat brief appearance on the radio, although the show wasn't over by a long shot. With the first hour of the show finished Nick and Edd ventured onto the deck of the H.F. Bailey, along with Alan, Den & Richard of the boat team. These three wise men are the guys who maintain and preserve the condition of the boat. If it wasn't for their countless hours of hard work the Bailey would probably be just a pile of wood and rust.

Alan shows Nick & Edd around the H.F. Bailey
They've also got a great sense of humour, and they're like of a cup of tea is legendary amongst us volunteers. They've even been known to give out a few tea making awards during their time!

Anyway, back to the matter at hand. As we stood on the balcony we watched as the boys showed Nick and Edd around the boat. By this team we'd been joined by the third member of the Beeb team, Debs. I probably should have mentioned her before, the "gopher" of the team as it were. Countless more photos were taken as the boys led Nick and Edd around the boat before they sent them below decks to the map room, with Debs handing her tablet to Edd so he could film Nick's piece for Radio Norfolk's Facebook page.

Now remember when I said the boat team had a sense of humour? Well, as you've probably guess by now the Bailey doesn't have any sort of power system, and when the guys go below decks to do their work they basically plug a light into a long extension chord and plug it into a socket on the balcony. It's the only way to get light into that part of the boat, unless you use a match that is, and I don't think the health & safety bods would like that very much.

Anyway, as soon as Nick and Edd went down the ladder to the boat room Alan and Den closed the hatch. I then looked over at Richard, sitting on the deck with the two ends of an extension cord in his hand. The boys exchanged a few knowing looks, and before they knew it Nick and Edd were in complete darkness. Thankfully Edd had a torch so they could continue their film! It made for a great piece of radio, especially when they emerged from the hatch. The boat team were lucky that Nick and Edd had a good sense of humour.

So with the tour of the museum almost complete Nick and Edd ventured outside for the other segments of their show. Lifeboat head honcho Richard Leeds and Coxswain John Davies made appearances among others, as well as a couple of Liberal Democrats discussing Norman Lamb's attempts to become party leader, but as the RNLI is completely non-political this was the part of the show that had nothing to do with the museum, so we took the chance to take a break.
Jacqui recruits Nick & Edd for the lifeboat!
With all the political stuff out of the way Nick and Edd came back into the museum for the final part of the show, which involved both of them dressing up in some of the lifeboat kit. Edd was the first, dressing up in the more modern gear, while Jacqui helped Nick put on a replica of the old cork-style life-jackets they used back in the mid-to-late 1800s. If anyone had tuned in at that moment they'd have probably wondered what was going on, especially when Nick asked Jacqui "do you want my bum or my front?" as she strapped the lifejacket onto him. After a little struggle with the buckles Nick was finally kitted out, and he wrapped the show up wearing the cork and a dainty sou'wester.

With the show done and dusted it was time for a few group photos, and as the clear-up operation began Nick began to thank everyone for making him so welcome. He then sought me out, thanking me personally for inviting him to the museum. He also told me to keep in touch and let him know how my job hunting was going. Edd and Debs then filmed a couple of shorts showing how they set up the broadcast, which involved a cliff climb and a load of cable across a car park, a bowling green, and someone's back garden.

I have to admit that I felt a little overwhelmed afterwards. I lost count of the positive feedback I was getting, not just from Nick and Edd, but from my fellow volunteers as well. I really didn't feel that responsible for the BBC broadcasting their show from the museum, and it felt kind of strange that the people I worked with were giving me credit for this and thanking me for my efforts. This continued over the next few days, with friends and relatives praising me for my efforts as well.

It dawned on me just why I was feeling that way. I began to think about my four years working in the professional wrestling business. I often came up with ideas that the powers that be would use, ideas for matches, ideas for gaining publicity, that sort of thing. More often than not, though, the powers that be would take the credit, and I hardly got any mention in any publicity material or interview, despite the fact that I set some of those things up, and some of those ideas are kind of being used today, nearly ten years after I left the company.

So how do I feel now, a couple of weeks after my brief appearance on local radio? I have to admit that I do feel proud of my efforts, that an idea that I thought wouldn't get very far gave the museum and the local RNLI some nice publicity. I also thought that I did quite well, certainly a lot better than when I provided commentary on a professional wrestling video back in 2003. Mind you, that whole thing was just bloody awful, with poor production and awful editing, and my commentary wasn’t up to much mainly because I was suffering from clinical depression and on strong anti-depressants.

Getting back on topic, I was also glad I got to see how these radio shows are put together. Watching Nick and Edd (and let's not forget the lovely Debs) in action was like watching a well-oiled machine in action. It really was interesting to see the way they worked, with Edd guiding Nick with the format sheets on his clipboard, adding notes along the way. They put in a great deal of effort that morning, and those who think that radio presenters sit on their backsides in air-conditioned studios collecting fat wage packets would have been surprised by their efforts that day.

I listened to the show on the BBC iPlayer a couple of days later. Well, everything except my part and the political bit. If I were to put on my reviewer’s hat my strictly unbiased view would be that everyone came across very well. I thought Jacqui did really well, and the way the boat team came across is more or less the way they come across in person. Overall if was a great piece of publicity not just for the museum but for the RNLI here in Cromer.

Would I appear on the radio again if I was asked? Maybe if Nick wanted to interview me about my work as Britain's longest running professional wrestling blogger, but that's probably not going to happen. But then again, if Nick wants someone to step in for a show or two and Radio Norfolk don't mind my playing a few Deep Purple and Black Sabbath songs........

Well, you have to have a dream, don't you?
Photo Credits: 
Group photo - Hubba Hubba Hubba
Other photos - Julian Radbourne