Really, what matters is that the BBC doesn't look stupid...
by Guy J Kewney | posted on 10 May 2006
There I was, waiting at BBC Television Centre, to be interviewed on the BBC's News 24 TV channel.
I'd been hired as an expert commentator about matters relating to Apple, iPods, computer copyright, and the Beatles. And I was due on at 10.30, when the High Court judgement was due on the lawsuit where Apple Corps (the Beatles) has been suing Apple Computer (Steve Jobs).
- and here it's 10.29 so, yes, I'm somewhat anxious, because I'm still in reception, not in the studio. That's after one or two "Excuse me, but… do they know?" style queries with reception, asking if they have, indeed, told the studio I'm here. And they have. "Someone will be down for you," I'm assured.
Am I ready for this fifteen seconds of fame? Oh, yes, I'm ready. I've spent the weekend researching the lawsuit. I’ve researched the real legal experts like Alice Graves, and I'm prepared to compare the iPod with a blank CD. At my normal rates, work like this would cost you a few hundred quid. But this being the BBC, I'm doing it for nothing – as most of us do, these days, in order that they can pay Jonathan Ross several million a year...
It is at this point, just about a minute before I'm due to go on, that anybody watching the channel would have been fascinated to see me introduced live on air, as the expert witness in the studio. Me? Not fascinated; astonished!
What would you feel, if while you were sitting in that rather chilly reception area, you suddenly saw yourself – not sitting in reception, but live, on TV? "A bit surprised?"
There were several surprising things about my interview. We'll ignore the fact that I wasn't giving it, and had not given it. We'll even gloss over the fact that, judging by my performance, English wasn't my first language, and that I didn't seem to know much about Apple Computer, online music, or the Beatles. People have accused me of all those things, at various stages of my career.
But let's admit it: of all the things you can say about me, one word that really has to be deleted from the list is this one: "Black." We're talking biometrics, here. We're talking about "twins separated at birth, only their mother could tell them apart"... NOT!
I'm not black. I'm not black on a startling scale; I'm fair-haired, blue-eyed, prominent-nosed, and with the sort of pale skin that makes my dermatologist wince each time I complain about an itchy mole. I'm a walking candidate for chronic sunburn damage. I’m really, really not black.
But the guy on screen - sorry, the "Guy Kewney" live, on screen, definitely was. Black. Also, he spoke with a French-sounding accent, and he seemed as baffled as I felt. At first, he seemed puzzled that anybody might imagine that the lawsuit had consequences, and suggested that people would still be able to download music from Internet cafes. But what about Apple? "I don't know. I’m not at all sure what I'm doing here," he admitted sadly, as they finally twigged that something was going badly wrong, and hustled him off the set.
You and me, both, kid... and so, how did it happen?
At first, I’ll admit, I thought it was hilarious. I asked the studio manager, when he finally appeared, what on earth was going on. The story he had to tell was pure farce.
"I'm dreadfully sorry!" said the studio manager, wringing his hands as if he wanted to suddenly take the day off, retrospectively. "It seems I rang Reception, not the Stage Door, and asked if you were there. And they said yes!"
So he went down to reception, and was introduced to me. That is, not this pink me, but the other, black me. Until we find out who he actually was, it’s a simple mystery how he persuaded BBC’s receptionists that he was me, and that's before we ask "Why?".
But, having done that, he had Evidence: a security pass with his name on. And that, it seems, is the definitive article; it must be True! And any other evidence could be discounted.
"Well, to be honest, I did think it couldn't be you. I mean, I've seen your picture on your web site, and he didn't look like you. So I asked him who he was, and he said: 'Guy Kewney' and I said 'Are you really Guy Kewney?' and he said yes. And I asked reception if that was you, and they said yes!"
So that was that, and they took him upstairs and put him in front of the camera. Security passes can't lie.
So if you have Sky Plus, or some other kind of personal video digital recorder (Tivo or similar) and manage to find the playback footage of the interview at 10.30, Monday May 8th, and spot the rather baffled interviewee, could you see if you know who he really is?
"We're completely baffled!" said the manager. "We asked him after his interview, if there was a problem. He said: "Well, it was OK, but I was a bit rushed..." and then he went home."
The blog item shows that I was really looking forward to doing the interview. Never mind the glory of being on the BBC, what about the enhancement such an interview offers to your professional reputation? And all gone…
Perhaps my disappointment showed on my innocent young (pink) face, because they took me upstairs and recorded a "piece to camera" where I explained my thoughts. That was some consolation, because (I reasoned) at least the world would find out that perhaps I wasn’t a complete ignoramus, without the ability to communicate in good English. Yes, I’d wasted several hours of my life, but! – at least I was getting some good publicity out of it.
Not so. Unfortunately, what I thought will remain a secret, because shortly after I did that, Apple Corps made its lawyer available for interview outside the High Court, and for some reason, the producers seem to have decided that his opinion about what would happen in the future was more important than mine. He said Apple Corps would appeal. He thought the Judge got it wrong. That was pretty much my opinion, too, but the BBC decided they preferred to have him saying it.
Well, I am very pink, so maybe that's understandable.
But the unworthy thought does persist that perhaps, those producers didn’t care much about the fact that my reputation was completely shredded by the way they put up someone who knew nothing about the subject - and claimed it was me. And the further unworthy thought occurs: that, possibly, the production mind is simply focused on the fact that if they put up my (real) interview, someone might realise that one of those Guy Kewneys could not be the real one, and that (no! surely not?) the BBC had made a complete arse of itself.
So they sent my limo out again, for someone else - a friend of mine, as it happens – Rupert Goodwins. And they asked him all the questions they’d asked me, and he gave pretty much the same sort of answers as I had done, about eight hours after I’d given them.
And the fact that a few hundred thousand people in the world are now under the impression that I’m an ignoramus who knows nothing about technology or Apple or iPods, and has a very poor command of English? – well, that’s not the Beeb’s problem, is it? After all, is a journalist going to sue the BBC and get blacklisted? Of course not!
So, if I’m not going to sue, who cares how unhappy I am?
Sense of humour failure? Me? What makes you think that?
Really not black... - You can discuss this article on our discussion board.
Really, what matters is that the BBC doesn't look stupid...