If you’re a journalist with a fondness for appearing on television — and, let’s face it, most of us are — the Covid crisis has been a double-edged sword. On the one hand, you’re no longer expected to drag yourself off to a studio at the crack of dawn, whether it’s Broadcasting House in the West End or Sky’s headquarters in Isleworth. You simply tumble out of bed, open your laptop and do a ‘down the line’. You don’t even have to put your trousers on. But the big drawback is, you look terrible. In a television studio, you have the benefit of make-up, professional lighting and proper cameras and microphones. Broadcasting from home, by contrast, is a pride-swallowing siege. I’ve often looked on in horror as my esteemed colleagues have squinted down at their built-in webcams, Apple ear buds hanging round their necks, with the contents of their nostrils plainly visible.
As soon as I realised that this would be the norm for the foreseeable future, I contacted my friend Roger Bowles, a television cameraman and documentary filmmaker. How could I improve my appearance when broadcasting from home? For me, the problem is compounded by the fact that radio stations have taken to interviewing people on camera via Skype or Zoom and posting clips on their social media channels. If, like me, you have a ‘face for radio’, there’s nowhere to hide. ‘I better come along and have a shufti,’ said Roger.
He took one look at my garden shed and began shaking his head in disbelief, astonished at the sheer amateurishness of it all. ‘Where’s your softbox?’ he asked, almost indignantly. Eh? ‘You know, to soften your appearance, make it less harsh. You don’t want to look like you’re on day three of an interrogation in the basement of Gestapo headquarters.’