Fifty years ago on Monday the World Service programme Outlook was launched as an innovative news and current affairs programme presented ‘magazine style’ with live interviews featuring ‘star’ guests. Such ‘soft’ journalism was highly suspect back in 1966, as England won the World Cup, Russia landed the Lunar 9 mission on the moon and China embarked on its Maoist cultural revolution, because it relied not so much on factual truths or reportage but on the emotional truth of what it felt like to be there in that place at that moment in time. Over the years, though, the guests on Outlook have taken over from the news content precisely because they can tell us stories that not so much illuminate the headlines as take us into the heart of what it is to be human, whether in a small village in Afghanistan or the Australian bush.
Back in the 1980s Terry Waite and the other Beirut hostages were encouraged by what they heard on Outlook, which they listened to in their makeshift cells on short wave transistor radios. A few years ago when the programme was threatened with being taken off air, because of a renewed demand for ‘straight’ news and information, Waite and others campaigned for its survival. He said that hearing the stories of other people had ‘lifted his soul’ and helped him not just mentally but also spiritually through those years of solitary confinement.
Monday’s programme focused on the Outlook Inspiration Awards, a birthday celebration of 50 remarkable people whose stories have either featured on the programme or been specially nominated by its listeners because of the way they have taken a bad situation and turned it into something hopeful not just for themselves but for many people. From that original list of 50 nominations, three people were selected to receive awards at a special live broadcast from the Radio Theatre in London.