The last time I wrote about the producer/presenter relationship was almost exactly two years ago when my lead producer Matt Harris left LBC after ten years to join Newsnight. The other member of our team, Jagruti Dave, who had already been working on the show for two years stepped up, but yesterday was her last day at LBC and she too is moving on for pastures new.
I stopped working with her and my second producer Victoria Gardiner when I moved from Drive to the evenings back in early September. I had been working with Jagruti for more than four years and Victoria for two. It was a very happy team and we worked incredibly well together. Had I not moved, I guess we’d all still be together. However, they had been working on a prime-time show and it would have been wholly wrong of me to try to persuade them to follow me into the evenings. At that stage in their careers it would have been very wrong for them. Victoria is now Eddie Mair’s producer, while Jagruti has decided it’s time to spread her wings.
I now have two producers, Sophie Snelling and Jakub Szweda who have been working with me for three months. I knew both of them before and I’m delighted to say we are working incredibly well together. More on that later.
Back to Jagruti. Rather like with Matt, Jagruti has become a firm friend, and I hope a friend for life. I joked with her the other day that I hoped when she’s presenting Newsnight in twenty years, she’ll come and visit me in my Twilight Home for the Bewildered.
Jagruti and Victoria were the best guest bookers on the station. When you added that to my own contacts book it’s fair to say that we did a good job in attracting big name guests onto the show. Given that it’s Breakfast which is any radio station’s flagship show and the one that gets the big guests, I think we gave Nick Ferrari and his team a run for there money most weeks. Not that it’s a competition!
We also took the show to record listener figures. When Jagruti joined the show in May 2014, a few months after the station went national, we were on about 500,000 listeners. When I left the show in September we’d built that up to well over 800,000. A lot of that was down to Jagruti’s leadership of the programme and her ear for what the audience both wanted and expected. And when I say leadership, that’s exactly what I mean. I’m the public face of the show, but a good producer leads the presenter and doesn’t bow to their every wish to do a Cliff Richard phone-in or something which she knows the audience won’t take to. A successful show has a format and the listener knows what to expect. That’s why LBC has been so successful in recent years. That’s not to say that you can’t deviate from the format from time to time if you have something special planned, but if you have a winning formula you need a good reason to change it. Radio listeners are very conservative beasts (with a small ‘c’) and don’t like change.
I’d come up with some weird and wonderful ideas for Outside Broadcasts and she’d say to me: “But what difference will that make to the listener.” And she was invariably right. I wrote this about Jagruti when she stepped up to replace Matt at the end of 2016 and I wouldn’t change a word now…
Like Matt, she often knows me better than I know myself. We often disagree on which subjects we should cover, but I have to admit (and I hope she’s not reading this) that more often than not she’s right and I’m wrong. “That won’t get a single phone call,” I’ll often say, when she suggests covering the plight of the lesser spotted Yak in Uzbekistan. “Ah, but you’ll do it brilliantly,” she will reply. And within five minutes we’ve got a full switchboard. “OK, OK,” I’ll say at the end of the show, “you were right again.” Cue a rather self satisfied grin on her face!
She is also a great studio producer and turned me into a much harder interviewer than I used to be. She cured me of the embarrassment of asking the same question repeatedly. “Do it again,” she’d shout in my ear if I wasn’t getting an answer. Indeed, she shouted so loudly in my ear during an interview with Jacob Rees-Mogg once that her voice was heard down the microphone too. She always has a sense of urgency in her voice in the gallery which helps shake me out of my natural laconic state in interviews.
Jagruti was always excellent in the big set-piece interviews. She knew that I hated overpreparing and I didn’t like long lists of questions because inevitably you just go through and ask them if they’re in front of you. I just liked a few bullet points of subject areas, and we’d discuss the areas to exploit best. She also judged when to talk in my ear and when not to. And if she didn’t she’d get my Paddington Bear death stare. Mind you, I got it in reverse a few times too!
Live studio environments can be somewhat tense at times. I’m not going to pretend we didn’t have the odd row, with some fruity shouting through the gallery glass. But it was always over almost as soon as it began and we’d just get on with it. It was usually over something completely trivial.
The important thing was that we had total trust in one another, especially when handling big breaking news stories - and we had a lot of them in our four years together, many related to terror attacks. I am the sort of person who gets very stressed by small things going wrong, but if it’s something big I’ll handle it and take in my stride very calmly. Breaking news is what any broadcaster worth their salt lives for. But it can make or break you. That’s when the presenter and producer have to have total trust in each other, and we did. Total. She knew I wouldn’t say anything inappropriate or give out information unless we had verified it, and I knew that even if I only had one thing to go on, she would be doing her best to find out more and get me the very best guests to react to whatever was going on. And I knew Victoria was upstairs in the newsroom doing exactly the same. They were the two people who always had my back in any given situation and I had total and utter trust in them.
Jagruti also liked to play what she called ‘Iain Dale Bingo’ - where I’d come out with one of my favourite phrases - “I worked as a nurse in my gap year” … “You may know that I speak German”… “I’ve had 12 Audis” etc… All presenters have these phrases I guess. Anyway, it caused her much hilarity.
The other thing that the three of us would like to do would be to challenge both our audiences and ourselves. After 8 years on LBC there aren’t many subjects for a phone-in that I haven’t covered before, but whenever we landed on something new we’d all get a kick out of it. Our 6pm hour was one in which we tried to do some rather challenging subjects. I remember doing a phonein on the Indian Caste system and whether it operated in this country in the Br-itish Indian community. As I was introducing it I did wonder whether we’d get a single call. Within five minutes we had a full switchboard. Time and again that would happen. Any fool of a presenter can get calls on immigration or benefits or speeding, but we tried to avoid the usual subjects unless there was a news reason to do them.
In short, I think the three of us produced some very special radio in the last couple of years and it really was a team effort. But all good things come to an end. When I left Jagruti’s leaving drinks we had a bit of a hug and she said something to me I’ll never forget because it meant so much. She said: “You’ve changed my life.” I told her to stop right there because I’d get emotional. I wandered across Leicester Square afterwards feeling quite tearful and I wondered to myself what she had meant. I do think I gave her the confidence to believe in herself and to understand that she really was quite brilliant at her job.
Yesterday she produced Matt Frei’s show for the last time too. I’m sure Matt will echo everything I have said here and I know how much she enjoyed producing him too. Walking out of the building for the last time must have felt very weird after five years. LBC and Global have lost an absolute star in Jagruti and so have I.
The transition to the evenings has been a lot easier than I thought it would be and that is in large part down to my new production team of Sophie and Jakub. Sophie has been on the station for two or three years and worked on Drive for a time as an Assistant Producer. Jakub started out as a tech op but has since come into his own as a producer.
We’ve very quickly formed a very tight team and they have both done brilliantly in the first three months. They totally ‘get’ me as a presenter, and that doesn’t always happen. I hope we’ll all be working together for a very long time to come as I’m very much enjoying it. It helps that they have a very similar sense of humour to me. Be afraid. Very afraid.