Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Robin Oakley

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Robin Oakley

Article excerpt

Writing an autobiography feels vaguely indecent, like running round the park without any clothes on

I know that personally revelatory journalism, recording every shaving cut and change of underwear, is all the rage these days. To someone who started the old-fashioned way doing weather and temperatures on the Liverpool Echo, it does not come naturally. Writing and promoting a volume that the bookshops stock in the autobiography section -- even if it is about many others, too -- has felt vaguely indecent, like running round Kennington Park without any clothes on.

The worst moment came when I was on the Tube on Saturday, en route to Broadcasting House for Loose Ends. Thinking I had better check the dates of an episode or two that Ned Sherrin might ask about, I fished out a copy of my book and thumbed the index. Then I looked up to be withered by the curling lip of the man sitting opposite. He had clearly recognised both me and my picture on the book cover. He didn't have to speak. I could hear him thinking: "Just what kind of big-headed bastard is it who can sit on the Underground reading a book he has written about himself." My reference copy now carries no cover, so the worst anybody opposite can think is that I'm reading a dirty book.

"There's only one requirement if you write a book of memoirs," the former home secretary Kenneth Baker told me. "You need a thick skin." By Sunday, he was proved right. Black Dog, the political gossip column in the Mail on Sunday, wrote that my book was one long complaint about my sacking from the BBC last year. I had "glossed over" John Sergeant's hurt feelings at not getting my job, the column continued, and I had failed to mention the "famous incident" when I once dried on air and John declared: "Don't worry, Robin--it's nearly happened to all of us." In fact, the story of my departure from the BBC takes just nine pages out of 397. And the Sergeant story, which I told at his BBC leaving do, is there in full on page 177. Since the Daily Mail, under blood-curdling headlines, had run extracts from my book the day before, there must have been a copy somewhere in the office. Lazy Dog.

Going into the Sky News studio for Adam Boulton on Sunday, I met Ann Widdecombe coming out, complete with the Louis Theroux camera team who are currently shadowing her. An interesting contrast, I trust, to the Hamiltons, Theroux's other recent subjects. Or has Max Clifford something in store for her, too? I was able to thank her for my visit to her home on CNN's behalf two days before. Halfway through, a large black cat had leapt over the fence and advanced on us. Conducting an interview while simultaneously stroking a large pussy to stop it jumping on your subject's lap is curiously disconcerting, like one of those childhood games where you have simultaneously to rub your head and pat your tummy. …

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