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My Interview with Jeremy Vine [May. 11th, 2010|04:20 pm]
James Dunn

     Since graduating from Durham in 1986, Jeremy Vine has gone from a lowly student to one of the BBC’s leading figure heads. He now hosts such shows as Panorama and The Jeremy Vine Show, some of the most well known shows in the UK. His reporting style is world renown and highly credited, it has taken him from his early days at the Coventry Evening Telegraph, to Africa and is now one of the key political and current affair’s presenters. So I caught up with Jeremy to see how his time at Durham University set him on his path to the media spot light.
     Jeremy arrived at Hatfield College in 1983 as a fresher from Epsom College and found the culture of Hatfield very daunting. At the time Hatfield was all male and had a serious rugby boozing culture. “They [Hatfield JCR] were campaigning to keep women out of College. Looking back now it was rather sexiest”. Hatfield’s rebellious streak at the time led to a very disastrous Hatfield Day that echoes that of St Chad’s Day of last year. However, Hatfield Day was so unhinged that it was banned after Jeremy’s first year. Jeremy recalls the fateful day. “Chicken drumsticks were thrown at the Master’s wife and someone dropped a boiled egg down one of the tubas of the local brass band from a balcony. That was appalling actually.”
     While at Durham, Jeremy became involved with Palatinate. During his third year (1985-1986) he took over the mantle of editor but explains that it was quite a different paper back in those days. The transformation from a quiet hub of a few students to a university wide contributed paper may seem a little boggling but Jeremy points out why. “Not many people at the time were thinking about jobs in the media. You won’t believe it, but there was a drive by papers to recruit people and I think there was a lack of people who were into the idea. The Palatinate office was tightly-packed with a very small number of obsessed, like me, but there wasn’t a crowd. We were the university squares. The media boom came later.” In comparison perhaps to our era, many of the team Jeremy worked with also went on to become leading figures of the media. “Jayne Morgan, she now runs a very successful podcast in South Africa, Adrian Wells who is now the head of Foreign News at Sky News and Judith O’Reilly who was a very successful blogger and is a best-selling author. Tim Burt worked at the Financial Times as their motor industry correspondent.” Their rise to media stardom from Palatinate may seem like a dream come true for all you budding journalists, but as Jeremy points out we aren’t going to be quite as lucky. “Happy days. We graduated into a boom. With the recession now it is much, much tougher. But at least the economy is not Armageddon. A year ago it looked like it might be.” Jeremy was editor twinned with being a radio DJ for Metro Radio, where he worked the graveyard shift once a week (2am-5am). He describes his degree as “50% vocational, although that would have been news to my tutors.” As he puts it, “my academic degree suffered” and he graduated with a 2.2 degree. Jeremy obviously misses his time at Durham, calling it the simple life. “I didn’t need a diary back then because I had nothing on, now my diary seems to be minute by minute. Back when I was at University we didn’t have the technology you do; now you can email, text, call and twitter. I used to just go and knock on a mate’s door and go for a pint.” I asked him what the best thing Jeremy had taken from his time at Durham. “Living within sight of the most beautiful building. You may be lodging with three students who haven’t learnt how to use the shower yet, but it doesn’t matter. You can see the Cathedral when you go out the front door, and that’s what matters.”
      After graduating Jeremy went straight into a journalism course with the Coventry Evening Telegraph, which is still being printed, although times are tougher. Within a year graduating he had already moved onto working for the BBC and by 1989 he had already become a regular reporter for The Today Programme on BBC Radio 4. During his time working for The Today Programme, Jeremy found a way of relaxing after his fifteen hour shifts by creating two graphic novels. These graphic novels (Forget Heaven, Just Kiss Me and The Whole World in My Hands) were set amidst the modern Church of England . They were clearly vents for his religious beliefs. However, he doesn’t look back on them with great glee. “I’m a bit embarrassed about them now. The publisher was crazy enough to print them. They will be no great footnote in my life.”
      In 1997 his journalist skills took him to warmer climates when he became the BBC’s Africa correspondent based in Johannesburg, travelling all over Africa. He undertook one of the last interviews by the BBC of Robert Mugabe and won critical acclaim with a piece about the brutality of the South African police force that led to suspensions of 22 policemen. Jeremy admits that those were the most special days of his career. “A reporter’s life is fundamentally what journalism is all about. Discovering things. Even presenters often wish they were back on the road, though their connection with the audience is a very special thing. But being in Africa was amazing. Sometimes, people I was interviewing had not seen a microphone before, let alone appeared on the radio.” His move to a more public role began in 1997 when he joined Jeremy Paxman and Kirsty Wark as one of the presenters of BBC2’s flagship Newsnight. However, his biggest challenge came in 2007, when he took over the helm of Panorama, the longest running current affairs documentary series in the world. The mantle also came with the extra pressure as it was moved to Mondays at Primetime, so it had to compete with the likes of Coronation Street. They came through the trial by fire of Monday nights and created the incredibly influential documentaries that Panorama is famous for. Jeremy’s proudest report is the documentary about the Matthew’s family. Karen Matthews was the mother who arranged the abduction of her own daughter, Shannon. Panorama had exclusive access to police records and got a great response. The show saw a huge rise in viewership of 5.6 million tuning into the hour long special. However, Jeremy isn’t proud of the ratings, he is more impressed by what it has achieved. “It was a discovery of a whole layer of Britain we didn’t know existed, or wanted to.” He also commented on a very recent Panorama (still on iplayer) about racism in a Bristol housing estate and the topics power to shock. “It makes you think bloody hell is this what’s happening.”
     Jeremy’s religion is a very personal thing to him and it is obvious from his answers that he is careful to not offend anyone. He is an open Anglican but it is very clear that his religious leaning should not effect his reporting. “Presenting must be professional. The key thing is to be real as much as you can but without putting individual views on the table. Once they are out there they cant be taken back.” He has been quoted on occasions worrying about the extent to which people can discuss faith openly without being pilloried. In a country where political correctness has taken over sense, Jeremy is very firm that he is not attacking the BBC, merely the change in public opinion. The Daily Telegraph reporter George Pitcher ran an article in January of this year calling for Jeremy to become Archbishop. “I couldn’t believe it when I saw that online. I had breakfast with George recently and I was too embarrassed to bring it up. I don’t think I would fit the bill though.”
    Talking to Jeremy I was so impressed that even though he had started journalism early he still has such love for the job and his effect of his work has not diminished. Jeremy’s final statement is very conclusive as to why he still loves reporting and why others would too. “Journalists must have a great sense of mission, but must always question everything around them.”

The Jeremy Vine Show is on weekdays 12 till 2 on BBC Radio 2
Panorama is on Mondays at 8:30pm on BBC1