RTS Futures event report - Before they were on screen

RTS Futures event report - Before they were on screen

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Friday, 24th May 2013

The latest RTS Futures event brought together front-of-the-camera talent and producers to get to the root of what it takes to get a break as a presenter and – harder still – to build a career in television. 

“Before they were on screen” was compered by Anna Richardson, the presenter of Channel 4’s The Sex Education Show, who also used to produce shows for the channel, including You Are What You Eat. Introducing the event, Richardson said: “We would be absolutely nowhere without the producers who spot the talent in the first place and then help us to develop our careers.”

Gloucestershire GP Dr Dawn Harper was encouraged to screen test for C4 but didn’t get the job. Realising she needed to gain TV experience, Harper offered her services to Sky breakfast show Sunrise. “For six months I used to set my alarm at three in the morning, drive myself to Sky, into make-up, onto the sofa – [tell viewers] that the Daily Mail isn’t right and they’re not going to die – drive back down the motorway and do a day in general practice,” Harper recalled. All that, she added, for £75 and no expenses.

Remarkable Television managing director Colette Foster recruited Harper to present C4’s Embarrassing Illnesses in 2007. “We take a straightforward subject and put some mischief into it. To do that I needed an expert and somebody who was fearless. When we met Dawn we knew immediately that she was the right person,” she said.

Jake Humphrey, who has signed to present football on BT Sport, started as a runner at Rapture TV in Norwich having flunked his A-levels. He recalled that the BBC’s Paul Smith, who discovered him and was also on the RTS Futures panel, had memorably described him as a “shining star in a sea of shit”. 

Smith, who is now BBC Radio’s head of editorial standards, brought Humphrey on to the presenting team at the corporation’s new children’s channel, CBBC, in 2002. He had been looking for new talent across the many digital channels starting up at the time. “The people that stood out were very small in number, so it wasn’t hard to spot them,” he recalled.

BBC news anchor Kate Silverton had wanted to be a war correspondent since the age of 12 when she saw Under Fire, which starred Nick Nolte as a journalist in war-torn Nicaragua. Silverton admitted that she “didn’t have the guts” initially to follow her dream, working in corporate finance – which she hated.

Determined to realise her ambition, Silverton visited the BBC in Newcastle and gave up her well-paid job in the City to make tea for the news staff until a proper job was found for her. 

“Kate had already lived life a bit before she came to see us. She was knowledgeable and well informed,” recalled BBC north east politics editor Michael Wild. “So, when she came to see us there was a hinterland there. That gave her something different – it made her stand out.”

“Before they were on screen” was held in central London on 23 May and produced by Ross McCarthy and Reem Nouss.

Report by Matthew Bell

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