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Last Updated: Tuesday, 1 February, 2005, 14:53 GMT
Shoulder pads, poison dwarves and talent...
By Kirsty Wark
Presenter, Newsnight

Kirsty Wark
Kirsty Wark and the aforementioned 1980s shoulder pads...
I arrived at Newsnight in October 1993, and I'm sure my shoulder pads were so big I had to manoeuvre in through the door sideways.

I had first come to London to work more than a decade earlier as a producer on The World at One.

Along with another Scot Amanda Ashton we were called - I like to think affectionately - "poisoned dwarves" by Brian Widlake. Poisoned dwarves apparently being the not so affectionate name the Kaiser gave the Cameronians during World War 1.

And ever since then I still get a buzz arriving at Television Centre wondering how the programme will make sense of the day.

This place is like an engine and, just to flog the simile a little longer, it really fires on all cylinders when we have a big political story.

In the past decade there's been everything from Black Wednesday to the Fall of the Berlin Wall, the Good Friday Agreement, to the Labour landslide in 1997, the Lewinsky scandal and endless resignations and resurrections - from Cecil Parkinson to Peter Mandelson. Newsnight should surprise nightly.

Mavericks and mega brains

In fact getting on air some nights is the biggest surprise of all.

Over the years an extraodinarily eclectic bunch of people have worked here in a team chock full of mega brains and mavericks - among the latter - the late Vincent Hanna (who once came to blows with David Sells in the office only to patch up in the bar later) our first Gulf War expert "Agent" Dave Foley, and of course, the scourge of Jeffrey Archer, Michael Crick.

On the production side Charlie Courtauld, Toby Sculthorp, and Meirion Jones are in the mavericks hall of fame. And in my time there have been five editors, Tim Gardam, Peter Horrocks, Sian Kevill, George Entwistle and now Peter Barron, all passionate about Newsnight and its place in the broadcasting firmament.

Variously - and in no particular order, one was obssssed with the Church of England, another with lycra, another, Hawkwind - one used to cry with laughter and another had an even dodgier taste in music than Hawkwind.

The gaffes we make off air are legion, and on air, more memorable to the audience I suspect than a perfectly executed programme.

We're not above hijacking an interviewee...a young and very ambitious researcher approached an ambassador when he arrived for a BBC World interview and steered him to the Newsnight studio
The art of the phone call either to elicit information or bag a guest is a talent every Newsnight producer should possess. In the past, one correspondent spent a long time on the phone to the wife of a Tory MP talking about her husband's area of expertise and when he then asked if he could be put on to him, she replied, "he left me this morning."

Missing guests

During the Iran-Iraq war, we booked the Iranian ambassador when we should have booked the Iraqi, and following the 1997 election a producer secured Vince Cable thinking he was one of the many new Labour MPs, and constructed a discussion on that basis, only to find (late in the day) that he was a Liberal Democrat.

Once a producer who was new to both the programme and the building was sent to greet Denis Healey before a live interview and escort him to the studio but the producer got hopelessly lost and the former chancellor never made it.

For all I know Denis Healey is still wandering around Television Centre.

On the other hand we're not above hijacking an interviewee. Once Newsnight requested an interview with the then Turkish ambassador, but not unreasonably he preferred the option of appearing on BBC World.

So a young, new, and very ambitious Newsnight researcher approached the ambassador when he arrived pretending to be a BBC World producer and steered him to the Newsnight studio, whereupon the ambassador was such a gentleman he did the interview.

There has been more than one guest inebriated on the programme - inevitable I suppose with our cocktail of politicians and late night live television..

And once, a totally sober John Prescott got a little confused during a live interview and asked to start again... but then sometimes we all get a little confused and would like to start again.

Newsnight is broadcast every weekday at 10.30pm on BBC Two in the UK.

Newsnight is 25 on 30 January, 2005. Click on the links on the right-hand side of this page for more on the show's history.


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