Turning the tables on Ed Murrow 

25 April 2023 tbs.pm/78815

 

TVTimes cover

From the TVTimes for 18-24 October 1959

EDWARD R. MURROW, the American TV reporter who has interviewed most of the world’s great politicians and entertainers, pulled nervously off a cigarette – one of the 70 or 80 he smokes every day.

He was supposed to be relaxing on a busman’s holiday, but he was obviously a worried man. For one thing, the tables had been turned, and the famous interviewer was himself the victim. He admitted: “I would be much more comfortable interviewing you!

For another, he will be delivering the Granada Lecture next week at London’s Guildhall (it will be televised on Thursday evening).

He said: “I used to do a little public speaking, but not in recent years. The change from camera or microphone to live audience, particularly in the grandeur of the Guildhall, fills me with stark terror.”

Why should a man used to addressing a radio and television audience of millions be frightened of facing a few hundred people?

Murrow’s explanation: “Your reaction can seem callous when working with radio and TV. There is no case on record in which a mike or camera walked out of the room, or yawned, or talked to his neighbour.”

In the quiet London hotel to which I had tracked him, I asked Murrow how much time off he has had since July, when his vacation year began.

“Frankly, none,” he confessed, “I have been working on an important programme, Biography of a Missile, for CBS, and I have also been doing election broadcasts for them.

“I have just come from Persia where I interviewed the Shah. Before that, I was in Sweden looking for personalities to appear on the Small World series, which are continuing during my holiday. And, for Granada, there is this lecture on ‘Television and Politics.’ I don’t know what I’m going to say – and I’m a very slow writer. The political broadcasts I watched during the election period were very impressive. Much better than spots presented by the American politicians. The British parties can often be faulted on technical grounds, but they show a great deal of imagination.”

 

A man stands behind another man who is seated at a desk and is smoking

Ed Murrow in an interview with ITN’s Michael Barsley

 

Ed Murrow is a larger man than he appears on TV. At 51, he confesses that he is probably incapable of taking a genuine rest.

He is constantly exploring some new challenging subject.

Lately, he has been thinking about children’s television.

“I see no reason why so much of children’s TV should be confined to cowboys and other fictional adventures,” he said. “I would like to see public affairs suitably presented to children, but I am not the man to do the job.”

He seems uncompromisingly centred on the deepest topics which is not to say that he is always serious. He often smiles, and he greatly enjoyed the Person to Person programmes in which he interviewed comics and socialites as well as statesmen and musicians.

I asked where he would like to live and what he would like to do if he were forced to retire from TV reporting.

“I have never had a plan that went beyond 90 days,” he declared.

“I lived in England from 1937 to 1946 and developed a great admiration for British courage in wartime. I haven’t been back for long enough to know how much the country has changed, but I would rather like to live here for four or five years and write a book.

“I don’t think a foreigner has written a good book about the British since Emerson and Washington Irving – aside from political reporting. I don’t mean to imply that I could do as well as them, but it would be a standard to aim at. However, that’s just a dream for the distant future.”

Murrow follows the axiom that to be a good political reporter it is necessary – to some extent – to be against everybody, but he cautiously admits to being in favour of workers, farmers, Democrats, underdogs – and the British. He comes from French, Irish, Scots and English stock – “the usual American mixture.”

His admiration for the British goes so far that, unlike many commentators, he does not consider them reserved and difficult to interview. “The British – I’m talking of run-of-the-mill people – are much more likely to give direct, brief answers to questions than Americans,” he emphasised.

In a television interview with a celebrity, he told me, he finds it impossible to tell whether the programme is going to be a success until the first five minutes on the air. “It’s a question of temperament, or maybe chemistry, I suppose. If things don’t go well in those five minutes, then I know nothing can save the show from disaster!”

 

Edward Roscoe Murrow (born Egbert Roscoe Murrow) 25 April 1908 – 27 April 1965

 

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