Nine O’Clock News 

17 October 2022 tbs.pm/75754

 

Cover of Inside BBC Television

From ‘Inside BBC Television: A Year Behind the Camera’, published in 1983

Preparation for the Nine O’Clock News begins early in the morning but, of course, any item can be jettisoned at a moment’s notice if a major story breaks shortly before transmission, or even after nine.

Of all live BBC broadcasts news programmes are the most unpredictable, but unpredictability is the essence of news broadcasting.

‘One seldom goes into a programme with a set of stories which remains constant,’ says John Humphrys, main presenter of the Nine O’clock News. ‘New scripts are coming in all the time while we are on the air. There have been times when a big story happened four minutes into the News and we turned the whole bulletin round there and then.’

Humphrys has been in this job for two years. His appointment marked a radical change in the style of BBC newscasting. Peter Woon, Editor of Television News, wanted journalists as presenters rather than the old style newsreaders who had little involvement in writing the news scripts.

Humphrys spent six years in the United States for the BBC during the Watergate period, and followed this with three years as their Southern African correspondent. After nearly a decade away from Britain, he became the BBC’s London-based Diplomatic Correspondent, and 12 months later he was made a presenter of the Nine O’clock News.

He writes the introductions to many of the stories he reads, and brings his journalistic experience to their presentation. He is in by 10.30 each working morning and does not leave until close to midnight after he has read the late news on BBC1.

His first duty is discussing with the editor of the day and his deputy what stories will form part of the Nine O’clock News. Each of the three news bulletins has its own editorial team.

 

The presenter sits at the desk whilst conferring with another staff member

John Humphrys has last minute discussion with his editor John Anderson.

 

Humphrys could be involved in doing an interview or a report in the field, but usually he works in tandem with the newsroom writers, and the reporters.

The object of the exercise is for him to be as familiar with as many as possible of the 15 or so stories which make up an average night’s News.

At three in the afternoon, there is a meeting to agree the basic shape of the programme in the large open-plan Newsroom on the sixth floor of Television Centre. It is attended by Humphrys, the editor of the day, his deputy, the writers and news producers and some of the technical staff.

 

In the News Studio, two of four remote controlled cameras.

 

At 3.50 there is a small meeting in Woon’s office to keep him informed of the content of the bulletin and another immediately following the 5.40 News, ‘to put the finishing touches to the running order’.

‘In the main, editorial decisions are made by the editor of the day,’ says Humphrys. ‘It is unusual for Peter Woon to change anything. These conferences are designed to inform him rather than seek his approval but obviously he has the ultimate responsibility.’

 

People huddle around a large messy boardroom table

The Newsroom on the sixth floor of Television Centre during one of the editorial conferences.

 

At 8.30 Humphrys makes his way to the small, recently refurbished news studio N1 on the sixth floor to face four remote control cameras and an Autocue. This is paced to the speed of his delivery and has about three words to the line with each line taking a second to read. Usually, only half the stories are on Autocue by the time the programme goes on the air because of the constant updating.

‘If at the end of the News the audience have forgotten who read it but have remembered what were the main items, I think we have succeeded,’ John Humphrys says. ‘I don’t like the notion that news presenters become personalities.’

 

Four men in an office

Peter Woon, Editor, Television News (far left), is advised of the running order of the evening bulletin by editor of the day, John Anderson (2nd left)

 

Two men in front of a video editing console

John Humphrys looking through videotape footage to enable him to write his introduction to the story.

 

 

Presenter's view of his autocues, BBC-1 output and himself

Humphrys rehearses his lead story.

 

 

Text: Rosalie Horner
Editing: Ruth Rosenthal
Pictures: John Timbers

 

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Liverpool, Tuesday 22 November 2022