Jeremy Vine: Broadcasting Genius
For a renowned workaholic, the man before me is surprisingly relaxed when I gape at him through the glass window of a production booth at BBC Radio 2 in London.
With Mumford & Sons’ “Roll Away Your Stone” on the air for the listeners tuned into his weekday lunchtime show, Jeremy Vine bounces over with an easy grin that is at odds with his dapper charcoal suit and ironed shirt.
“I just wanted to introduce myself. Sit back, enjoy the show and we’ll have a chat afterwards”, he says, before returning to his microphone to goad callers into defending the Greggs’ sausage roll.
Vine’s informal and tongue-in-cheek news programme is at odds with the gutsy and hard-hitting reporting he built a journalistic career on. Reporting from the frontlines of the war between Ethiopia and Eritrea, covering political elections in Algiers and Kenya, and later presenting the BBC’s flagship current affairs programme Panorama, this former foreign correspondent has had the life today’s budding journalists yearn for.
“The great thing about journalism is that you’re paid to have adventures. You can go around on a speed-boat in the Niger Delta”, Vine says, “We went around these little villages in Nigeria, and got in some row with the translator. I said, ‘What’s going on?’ and he said, ‘I’m trying to persuade them not to kidnap you’. I just look back and think, ‘Gosh, it was a movie for a while’. When you’re in a foreign correspondent, it’s like being in a movie”.
Despite his love for television broadcasting, Vine’s passion has always been radio and his return was inevitable. As a student at Hatfield, Vine juggled his responsibilities as Palatinate’s own Editor-In-Chief as well as hosting his own radio show, “I used to do Metro radio in the middle of the night. It was the independent local radio station ‘cause Durham didn’t have a university radio station then. I sent a tape to a guy there called Giles Squire”.
“He invited me to come talk to him and said he’d give me this weekly three-hour show. But he then said, “The only problem is, you can’t do it for free”. Vine recalls, “They paid me £8 an hour and it was from 2am to 5am once a week. In those days, 1983, ’84, it was incredible. I felt rich!”
He laughs, “I was really, really rubbish at it. I remember I had two features to play during the show and I played the same one twice. My friend, Richard, who was listening in his house said he was just dropping off to sleep at 3am and heard the second feature being repeated. He suddenly woke up and shouted ‘Nooooo!’ realising I’d cocked it up”.
This wasn’t Vine’s only mistake as he struggled to keep up with his English degree. “I had to compromise a lot of my studies to do the vocational stuff. I just got a 2:2 and I did care but I’d read one book too few for the Finals. There were four questions and I thought there was only going to be three but ‘Oh, there’s a whole question that I can’t answer’. I had that feeling that you have in nightmares sometimes when you’re sitting a Final and not knowing. I was lucky to get anywhere with a 2:2 behind me”.
Vine mentions luck often, particularly when he reflects on his career. “It’s not like I’m more talented. The biggest group of graduates wanted to go into journalism, wanted to work for the BBC and wanted to be foreign correspondents. And ten years ago, I was sitting in the Johannesburg bureau thinking, ‘How did that happen?’ It’s probably luck”.
It is only when I scoff that he wavers, “Well, it was certainly a passion and enthusiasm… I did work very hard, particularly during the first ten years. Might even have been the first twenty years, now I think of it”.
Vine’s success may seem like encouragement for teenagers considering skipping university and a large debt burden in favour of gaining vocational experience. However, the radio host remembers clearly the benefits university offered him, “The reason university is so valuable, even at £9,000, is that you’re having three years where you’re not anybody’s son or daughter and you’re not anyone’s employee. You’re just in a milieu of people the same age. You fall in love. You can read. You can write. You can spend a term just drifting around if you want and it’s fine. It’s such an important thing for growing. I could have been a very closed person, just interested in radio, radio studios and jingles but Durham opened me up”.
Stepping outside journalism for a brief period while at university, Vine took up Karate, “I never, ever got to be a black belt because at one point I got beaten up and had a Chinese takeaway stolen from me. There was quite a lot of town-gown tension and students stand out a mile. I lost faith in Karate at that point, when I lost the entire Chinese meal”.
More happily, Vine recalls life in Hatfield where he first met the friends he still sees today, “Just today, an old friend of mine was saying she wants to read some W. H. Auden who’s my favourite poet, and I was just thinking how great it was that when I was at Hatfield. They had scaffolding outside and I’d climb out my window, climb on the roof and read poetry up there on a sunny day. Life doesn’t get any better than that, it really doesn’t”.
“I lived in Hatfield for all three years but in my third year, there was a ballot for college rooms and I somehow came top. I obviously chose the nicest room and it was this bay window room at the back of 24 North Bailey. It was absolutely gorgeous and it had a garden that you access via through the window. It was the best thing in the world. It really was. I should go and try to buy that room”.
Despite his fondness for Durham, Vine hasn’t returned since his mid-thirties, “It always makes me sad when I go back. The students who are there now were born after I was there and that’s frightening. You feel nostalgic for your youth and the sort of person you were. Feelings don’t get captured very easily so every time you reach out to something, it goes. You almost don’t want to go back because every time you go back, you overwrite it”.
“The thing is when I was young I wanted to be on television and then when I was on television, I just wanted to be young. There’s a lot to be said for being young. It’s just an advantage, period”. Vine says before softening, “But I’m 45 now so I am able to look back and think, instead of pushing and pushing, and constantly thinking ‘Am I going to lose this?’ and ‘Where am I going to get in the next five years?’ I’ve suddenly started thinking, ‘It’s alright, it’s been good’ ”.