Being on television is no laughing matter. Unless of course you are appearing in a comedy programme.
During my 20 odd years on the box I learned one thing. Being on TV is a privilege. If you are doing it right, as I hope I did on both Calendar and Look North, you are not just a wall of sound coming from a small box in the corner. People are watching and more importantly listening to what you have to say. And they have long memories.
I know because every week someone comes up to me reminding me of my connection to them. Some I have never met.
I have merely introduced a piece about them. Some I have interviewed during the best or, as a news journalist more often than not, the worst times of their lives. Some remind me of a quip I once made, never offensive I hope. Others of a story that affected them.
At least ten times a year I am reminded of my bedraggled appearance in the floods or the snow. But that’s good. Being on TV is not about how you look, or shouldn’t be. It’s about what you say.
This week I also got an invitation from the lovely India Farmer to join her in celebrating 21 years since her bone marrow transplant. It was while I was on Calendar that in desperation her mum Jo turned to us seeking a donor to save her daughter’s life. She was just five years old and had been battling leukaemia for three years. It worked. Hundreds came forward to be tested. The transplant was successful and they have never forgotten our part in their story. You see it matters.
Which is why American anchor Lara Spencer can grovel til the cows come home for mocking and laughing at Prince George for taking ballet as part of his school curriculum. It doesn’t wash with me.
Laugh at yourself of course. But never at others. That is the golden rule. And one flippant comment can ruin a career. Ask Danny Baker or Katie Hopkins.
Lara Spencer is a seasoned broadcaster. She is not some airhead chosen because of her looks and turned into a TV presenter. She is 50 years old and presents ABC’s flagship Good Morning America. She has worked her way up through the ranks.
She has been a news correspondent and an on the road reporter. She has seen the impact events can have on people.
Which is why she should have known better. By mocking Prince George learning ballet she was mocking every little boy or girl who dreams of doing something different and breaking down the gender stereotypes.
Ask Cudworth’s Philip Moseley, credited with being the inspiration behind the story of Billy Elliot. Philip was the youngster from a South Yorkshire mining family who was told ‘Lads don’t go to dancing class’ and went on to become a star of the Royal Ballet having been inspired by Gene Kelly to follow his passion for dance.
Which is all rather fitting seeing as it was Kelly’s widow who this week reminded Miss Spencer of the stigma surrounding male dancers fuelled by her flippant comments when she drew her attention to a TV programme made by her late husband for rivals NBC entitled “Dancing, A Man’s Game”.
Don’t get me wrong television can and should be fun. Even news programmes should always leave space for some light relief from the troubling events of the day. And sometimes it can be difficult to keep a straight face.
There are memorable times when I fell foul of the presenter’s curse of corpsing, a term derived from the theatre when bored actors would try and make the actor playing dead laugh. Too often I appeared on programmes such as It’ll be Alright on the Night or similar, the time I swallowed a fly, or when Richard Whiteley fell of his chair. I had a way of countering my sense of humour pinching my thumb until it hurt or simply thinking about paying my mortgage. It usually worked.
But when I did laugh it was at a slip of the tongue or an unexpected occurrence. Never have I poked fun at a person, with the exception of Paul Hudson who always gave as good as he got.
Almost five million people watch Good Morning America every day.
Lara Spencer is billed as the entertainment anchor. Well laughing at people should never be for entertainment. Laughing with them is another matter.
If you have the privilege of appearing on TV or writing in a newspaper, you have to reflect the world as you see it and that means championing the underdog and inspiring others to achieve without making cheap jokes at their expense.
So keep up Lara. The times you are there to report on are a changing. But you should know that already.