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Last Updated: Monday, 3 December 2007, 09:26 GMT
Memories of a Newsround Newshound
As children's news show Newsround celebrates its 35th birthday, BBC journalist Becky Branford explains how her career began in 1987 when, aged 11, she became one of the programme's very first Newshounds (later renamed the Press Pack).

Accompanied by John Craven, she was sent to report from Burkina Faso in Africa, where she had an historic encounter with charismatic President Thomas Sankara, who was assassinated soon afterwards.

Becky Branford and President Thomas Sankara
We were the last foreign journalists to interview President Sankara
On the most exciting day of my life, I was in bed with a horrible dose of flu.

My father came into my room with a cup of tea. For someone as imperturbable as my dad, he was looking uncommonly agitated.

'I've just had someone from the BBC on the phone,' he said.

'They say you won that competition you entered!'

In an instant, the flu disappeared and I shot out of bed, hopping around the room in a new delirium, this time of elation.

A few weeks later, I was on the plane to Burkina Faso, a poor, landlocked country in west Africa, with fellow winner Dan Meigh, who was 14. Our assignment was to report on development projects set up by Sport Aid, which raised money through mass sports events.

I have very vivid memories of Burkina Faso - the intense heat when I stepped off the plane, the colourful clothes (though coming from Britain in 1987 our own outfits were hardly muted), the amazing welcomes we got wherever we went.

This extended to the president himself, Thomas Sankara, who gave us an interview.

John Craven shoots Becky's report
John Craven was behind the camera as Dan and I reported
I enjoyed meeting him at the time - there was not a hint of condescension in the way he treated his young interviewers - but it is only now as an adult that I have come to realise what a remarkable leader he was and why, even today, he is so venerated in Africa.

Characteristic of Sankara's style of leadership were the policies he told us about - such as asking all Burkinabes to plant a tree on their birthdays to slow the rate of desertification, and replacing the government's fleet of luxury cars with small Renaults, the cheapest car available.

But Sankara's policies were not welcomed by all sections of Burkinabe society, and shortly after we returned from our trip, he was killed in a coup.

It turned out that we had been the last foreigners to interview Sankara, and suddenly our Newsround trip became a news story itself.

Becky in Burkina Faso
Burkina Faso was hot, colourful and friendly
For a few days, we were suddenly in demand for interviews - extending even to a spot on Terry's Wogan's famous chat show.

One of the advantages of being only 11 when I was suddenly pitched into the weird world of the media was that I didn't yet know what it was to be nervous or feel self-conscious.

I was able to speak quite naturally in front of the camera, in a way I'm not sure I could manage now.

And I had a child's honesty. Once, for example, when I was doing a live radio interview about Sankara, the presenter did what radio presenters often do, and, after asking me a question, glanced down at some running orders to prepare for the next item.

I found this behaviour quite inexplicable.

Becky Branford
Twenty years later, I work as a journalist for the BBC News website
"Do you want to know my answer or not?" I asked in bewilderment.

Through the soundproof glass, I saw my mum and the programme editor burst out laughing.

All in all, it was a great experience, not only giving me a taste for journalism and an insight into a part of the world I knew nothing about, but also, off-camera, some fond memories of John Craven and other crew members larking around with the local villagers we met.

I like the fact that Newsround dared to let kids loose in front of the camera and, in my opinion, it demonstrated that kids do as well as is expected of them. If the challenge is ambitious, they will usually rise to meet it.

And I must say I enjoyed the sense of coming full circle when, years later, I went to work as a journalist on the BBC News website.


VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Take a tour of the Newsround studios with Ellie Crisell



SEE ALSO
Craven marks Newsround birthday
04 Apr 02 |  Entertainment
New presenter for Newsround
12 Nov 01 |  Entertainment
In pictures: 30 years of Newsround
04 Apr 02 |  Entertainment

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