Intrepid Optimist

Intrepid Optimist is the place where I can share my stories; fact, fiction and thoughts from the past and present. It’s Written by myself for people who believe adventure knows no age

No Experience Necessary – Those were the Days

Occasionally – usually while sitting at a bar, I will be asked by those younger by several generations than myself, what I studied to become a  journalist; a title I use to cover a multitude of sins. When I tell them I have no qualifications and became a member of the press at the will of the BBC, they tend to smile indulgently and turn to talk the person on their other side.

I never planned or even thought of becoming a journalist until that day I ran into my friend Jaime. Seńor Jaime Bejerano  was the press officer at the British Embassy, in Quito. During our conversation, Jaime mentioned that the BBC – British Broadcasting Corporation had asked if he could recommend a freelance stringer to cover events for them in Ecuador.  At this time, the only two journalists in Quito capable of reporting in English were  Sarita Kendell and her partner Timothy Ross and they were already stringing for the Financial Times and CBS respectively. Almost as an afterthought, he suggested he put my name forward.

To say the least, I was flattered but skeptical.  “Why not you? You can write English can’t you? ” Jaime questioned, observing some reluctance on my side.  Of course, I could write English – I could even spell relatively well and, given enough time, I could put together enough words to form a comprehensible sentence. Having left school at the age of fifteen this was about the sum total of my school learning.

What if I had to broadcast? I asked Jaime.  I may have lost some of my Englishness, having lived for more twenty years outside the UK, but my northern accent remained. Jaime assured me this was unimportant. This affliction, as he called it, was no longer a problem as the BBC had recently begun employing people with regional accents.

Did I really want the job?  I already had enough work to keep me happy. My main occupation being the social director (read, own best customer) at the Lord Byron, an English pub-restaurant which my wife and I owned. That and a couple of pleasant part-time obligations were enough to keep me occupied. But YES, I did want it. Being associated with the name BBC would be most prestigious.

It was left at that. I heard no more on the subject until two weeks later when Jaime called to say the BBC accepted his recommendation – me.  I was invited to visit their London headquarters on my own time. In other words, if I was interested enough, I would have to pay my own expenses.

Would I have gone if I had had to pay out of my own pocket? I don’t know and I doubt it? Fortunately, one of my part-time functions was for British Caledonian Airways[i], and they paid me in occasional Quito-London return, business class tickets.  As a further perk, my grand title of their  Jefe de Relaciones Publicas meant, if there was a vacant space up-front, I could be upgraded to 1st class.

There was little to beat a B-cal, 1st class flight in those days; the excellent food, the never-ending flow of bubbly and port wine did wonders for a man’s confidence. Seventeen hours later, in London for my job interview, I was able to top this off with an overnight in a four-star hotel, again courtesy of B-cal. The following morning, when I entered the hallowed halls of Bush House to meet Peter Brooks, manager of BBC Latin American Services,  I was already walking on water.

Before the 90’s it was rare to be asked for your Curriculum Vitae, which was no bad thing in my case. If those interviewing you liked what they saw and heard, that was enough, you would get the job, and this was the case that morning.  By the alacrity of the interview Mr. Brooks, probably relieved to find someone to fill the payment-by-article-only position in unoffending, news scarce  Ecuador, pronounced me suitable.

On my return home, I was to report on natural disasters, revolutions and changes of the president – these events occurred with frequency – and Ecuadorian issues – if any – of importance to the outside world. Scandal not tolerated, rumours not required. I walked out of Bush House as BBC stringer, equipped with an impossibly cumbersome tape recorder, on permanent loan from the technical department, and the in-house booklet on how to broadcast.  Of more significance – I was a journalist.

[i] British Caledonian (BCal) was a private, British independent airline, operating out of Gatwick Airport in south-east England during the 1970s and 1980s.


About bbryanthomas

Not so young man about town who, having witnessed and enjoyed life, is presently having fun, writing about those by-gone times and life in general.

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This entry was posted on July 11, 2018 by in Bars, Non-fiction, Stories and tagged , , , .
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