Karen couldn’t quite believe her good fortune. It had been her ambition since childhood to carve for herself a career in front of the TV cameras. To that end she had taken elocution lessons, attended Drama School for three years, fared well academically and even acquired a few diplomas – some with commendation – along the way.
Hundreds had applied for the advertised post of Assistant BBC TV Newsreader and only five had been shortlisted for interview. And she was one!
Why me? She wondered idly as she waited to be called. Perhaps it was my qualifications, my experience, maybe they were impressed with the newsreading rehearsal video I sent, perhaps even my appearance. She discretely withdrew a make-up mirror from her purse to examine her image.
On the advice of her father, she had opted for an understated charcoal grey suit, with knee-length skirt, an open-necked white blouse, buttoned to the neck, and a ‘sensible’ pair of slip-on black (flat) shoes.
Her father – a long-retired radio (yes.. just radio .. she’d go one better!) announcer, and her best friend, had tutored her on all aspects of the interview and prospective profession, though, she reflected carefully, things might just have changed a little since his day.
“I knew your father, way back in the day – when I first started!” confided the bespectacled grey suit (colour-matching her own !!) across the city desk from her. He watched for her reaction.
‘He pulled strings!’ Karen thought, and was certain that her eyes betrayed her emotions. She quickly recovered and smiled sweetly, nodding demurely.
“The bad old days!” the suit continued. Again her eyes gave her away.
“Can you roll your R’s ?” he suddenly spurted. Karen panicked. As she covered her alarm with another demure smile, she asked herself: Did he just say R’s ? Or .rs. ?
“Roland Rat rode rigorously round the ring road”, she enunciated in her best plummy Estuary Accent and elocution voice, emphasising each R as she rolled her tongue in the middle of her mouth, and shaped her lips in a perfect O.
“No! No! No!” he cried in clear dismay. “I mean, like Naomi Campbell on the catwalk, or Rachel Riley on Countdown!
“And forget the fake so-called BBC newsreader accent. That was back in the 1950-70s, in your father’s day. Now you gotta sound like … well .. for example .. Steph McGovern!”
As she struggled to cover her dismay and alarm, he leaned discreetly forward and punched a button on the machine before him.
A dreadful cacophony of noise erupted, splitting the room and piercing her ears. A frenzied drummer was hammering out rolls and riffs, punctuated with crashing cymbals while the brass section – trumpets, sax, trombones and horn – was giving free vent to its collective musical creativity.
“Go ahead!” said the suit. “Read the news from the sheet in front of you. ABOVE the sound of the intro. You’ll have to adopt a high-pitched falsetto tone – just to be heard above the musicians.” And he smiled. He actually smiled. He was enjoying this.
“And for heaven’s sake, undo the top three buttons of that blouse, relax and give us some flash of cleavage!
And accent the words completely at random: Breathe in all the wrong places: If there’s a number in there, put heavy emphasis of the first syllable (THOUS ..ands) to grab the audience’s attention.
We need a bit of interpretation in the news today!” He paused. “Have you got all that?” He allowed one second for her reaction, which didn’t come in that short time.
“You’re only getting this interview as a favour to your father! You appreciate that?”
That was it. Karen could take no more and she burst out crying. She hastily fetched a tissue from her purse to wipe away her tears.
The suit jumped to his feet, beaming, his eyes alight with excitement.
“That’s it!” he exclaimed. “Exactly! Our audience just LOVES to see emotional reaction like that! By the way, was that natural or affected?”
Karen recovered. “Which is better?” she asked.
“Brilliant!” he roared. “The perfect answer!
The job’s yours!”