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Last Updated: Wednesday, 21 September 2005, 11:49 GMT 12:49 UK
A driving force behind BBC shows
Niven Sinclair
Niven Sinclair's company now has 92 cars working around the clock
Forget Jeremy Paxman and David Dimbleby. It seems that the hero of much current affairs programming is 81-year-old Niven Sinclair, who has delivered thousands of guests to the studio on time.

He began in 1977 with a single car on a three-day job driving guests to the Lime Grove studios for Panorama.

Before long his company, Niven Limited, was running all Lime Grove's transport.

Today, the company has 92 cars working around the clock for scores of programmes.

This month the company, one of 11 BBC transport suppliers, is leaving Lime Grove - cutting the final BBC link to the famous old address - for new premises in NW10, not far from White City.

The quality of the programme begins the moment you've collected the guest
Niven Sinclair

Over the years, the wily and determined owner of Niven's has built a reputation for digging programmes out of holes. He has even coaxed the odd reluctant statesman into the studios.

"I went to collect Ted Heath when President Sadat was assassinated in 1981," Mr Sinclair said.

"When I got to his house he said he couldn't leave because there was only one security guard with him.

"But after I told him I'd been a major in the King's African Rifles in the war, and knew he had been a major in the gunners, he agreed to risk it."

'Military operation'

Niven's, says its proud owner, is much more than an average minicab company because it is built around the specific needs of television.

"It's not just a matter of getting someone from A to B. The quality of the programme begins the moment you've collected the guest.

"They have to be in the right frame of mind. That means you have to pick them up on time so they are not rushed and can collect their thoughts before going on air."

Niven Sinclair
I'll put my feet up when programmes no longer need me
Niven Sinclair

An overhaul of the service, accompanying the move from Lime Grove to NW10, will allow producers and editors to speak directly to drivers and check where cars are on an online map.

For programmes like Newsnight, which often needs guests at short notice and late in the evening, this tailored service is much valued.

Niven's really comes into its own on election night. Mr Sinclair, who is still in his office four days a week - if not behind the wheel, approaches it "like a bloody military operation", attending BBC meetings to make sure he knows where key candidates and constituencies are.

This year every guest made it to the studio on time.

Niven's strategy of continuing to focus its core business on the BBC is paying off as procurement recently bumped up its share of work at the expense of under-performing rivals.

As for the ever-youthful Mr Sinclair, he's not quite ready for the pipe and slippers.

"I'll put my feet up when programmes no longer need me and when things here can run in such a way that customers don't notice a wrinkle of difference that I've left."


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