How I ended up presenting TV (the circuitous answer)

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Or, an alternative title could be: ‘how I wanted to learn Latin but ended up with King Alfred (left) instead.’

On Friday night my fellow curators at Historic Royal Palaces and I went out for a cocktail (or 2).

We started talking about the hardest jobs we’d ever done.

Among my colleagues, I was surprised to discover I have:

–       a former employee in a light-switch factory

–       an ex-mixologist

–       a retired chip-boy (this means washing potatoes in cold water, cutting the eyes out of them and slicing them into chips, standing all the while in the said cold water up to the ankles)

–       my own answer was that I used to prune raspberry canes on a fruit farm

–       a quondam employee of a contract cleaning company whose job it was to clean a big B&Q.

This last young man was told at the time by his boss at the cleaning company that if he gave up that crazy dream of going to university, they would teach him how to drive the big sit-and-ride floor-cleaning machine.  

Obviously, he was tempted, but plumped for university instead.

But then, as another colleague pointed out, we’re planning on getting a fork lift truck for our new conservation warehouse store at Historic Royal Palaces, so maybe he’ll be able to get to drive an unusual vehicle in working hours by another route.

It reminded me of one of the answers I sometimes give to the question ‘how did you end up being an (occasional) TV presenter?’  If time is short, I may have to fall back upon the two-word answer, which is ‘by accident’.  However, if nothing much else is happening, I might embark upon this particular explanation.  It involves a failure to learn Latin, and goes like this:

At my comprehensive school in Nottingham, not all that many people wanted to learn Latin.  I did, and our lessons were some of my favourites.  We were in a really small group, with Mrs Mills, and it made our brains hurt in a good way.

But unfortunately I couldn’t study it in the sixth form because the school I was attending then didn’t offer it.

Nevertheless I did the best I could with an old grammar book, and was still determined to take an exam paper in medieval Latin when I got to college.

It wasn’t really a very sensible idea, as I was so far behind everyone else who’d done A-level Latin.  I was sent for remedial tuition to a special lady outside the college, whose husband was rumoured to a recruiter for M15.  Alas, despite my frequent mentions of my deviousness and my love of George Smiley, the tap on the shoulder never came.

Neither did fluency in medieval Latin.  When it came to the exam, we had to translate chunks of Bishop Asser’s Life of King Alfred.

The only way I could get through this with any sort of success was to memorise the whole of the text in English, try to recognize which bit the book had cropped up, and then spout it off from memory.

I did OK despite not really entering into the spirit of the test.

And weirdly, I ended up with an extremely detailed knowledge of Asser’s Life of Alfred. 

At the time I thought, ‘well, that will be of NO use in later life’.

But I was wrong, because in 2009 a TV company phoned me up and said, ‘what do you know about King Alfred?  We thought maybe you’d be able to present a programme on him’.

‘Aha!’ I said, ‘I’m glad you asked!  Well, in the year of our Lord’s incarnation 849, Alfred, King of the Anglo-Saxons, was born at the royal vill of Wantage, in Berkshire (which receives its name from Berroc Wood, where the box-tree grows very abundantly….) etc etc etc’.

And I went right through, four and a half hours later, to the very end of Asser’s work.

The end result was that they gave me the job, and I made a little half-hour programme, the first that I ever presented, which was all about King Alfred.  It’s long forgotten and superseded of course by all the hoo-ha of the royal hipbone of Winchester, but it was fun to do, and remains close to my heart.

4 thoughts on “How I ended up presenting TV (the circuitous answer)

  1. Julian Croker

    I used the same technique for my Latin O level – The Aeneid. “Tenedos is in sight…” is still seared into my brain nearly 40 years later.

  2. John Atkinson

    I wonder, could Greek do something for me?…

    … nah, I don’t want to be on the telly.

  3. Harry Chong

    A very amusing story, Lucy. Your use of the term “hoo-ha” made me chortle.

  4. Felix Deer

    Hello Lucy,

    Reading your post about getting into TV has prompted me to write to you about a remarkable endeavour that I would like to to tell you about.

    About 108 Billion people have lived on this earth and almost none of them have left any record whatsoever. They are gone and forgotten and no one will even know they existed at all – which is pretty disappointing!

    I’d like to tell you all about it but I don’t want to put it all down in writing here, but I would be delighted to tell you a bit more about what I am doing if you are interested to learn more. I guess you can reply to my email address from your blog?

    PS. Below is the Latin version, which I am sure is a tragically poor translation.. blame google..

    Salve, Lucia,

    Lectio gradum adduxit me ipsum scribere ad te de introeunt experientiam quam peculiaris de vobis velim.

    CVIII De billion fere nemo in hac terra vixerunt recordatio quidquid relicturus. Et abierunt: et non erit in oblivione et scire nihil sint, – quod est pulchellus frustretur,

    Libet dicere nolo, sed omnia ut omnia scriptis, sed ego id libenter si quid faciam tibi paulo plus interest scire. Suspendisse Suspicor potes mihi responsum a blog?


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