Magazine article The Spectator

The Unexpected Ted

Magazine article The Spectator

The Unexpected Ted

Article excerpt

IN THE MIDDLE of October I was struggling along the main road outside the Palace of Westminster with a very heavy bag of radio kit when I met Kenneth Clarke. `Doing a documentary about Heath,' I puffed. `Off to record him making small talk with constituents.... ' 'But', said Clarke, `Ted just doesn't do small talk.' It was a good few weeks of trying before I realised he was right. We had a hell of a time trying to record him at all, even with one of those super-unobtrusive, incredibly tiny, you-don't-know-it's-onyour-tie microphone jobs. When we finally succeeded in getting him to wear one he wouldn't speak. Very odd sort of MP; trying to shut them up is usually the problem. But it's not just that. Most politicians who had just written a major work on their time in office and were offered half an hour on the radio two weeks before Christmas would be fighting through weeping crowds of women and children to get to the microphone. Not Ted.

When his book, The Course of My Life, was published this autumn, Heath went on an extraordinary publicity tour around Britain and Europe - book signings, media events, a whole career's worth of television and radio interviews. It was an exhausting schedule by any standards, involving over 100 appearances and signing thousands of books. We wanted to make a programme about selling Ted. Enter Karen Geary, publicity director at Hodder & Stoughton, the book's publishers. She organised his book tour and provided a stunning contrast with her subject. She is slim, attractive, chatty, open, elegant, fallible and pushy (in a civilised way). He is not slim, struggling to keep his looks, monosyllabic, closed, infallible. He grew up the son of a carpenter from Kent. She was raised in Japan, the daughter of a diplomat. We wanted to know from them both how you sell a politician with such a prickly reputation. We also wanted to get to know the real Ted Heath.

That was difficult. Karen Geary wanted to get to know Ted Heath too. She failed as well. Heath is as protective of his private life as he is defensive about his public record. He has a sort of armour-plated patter which is jovial and interested for potential punters and mildly hostile for the press. It has protected him for years and is the reason that it took 25 years to write the book. He hates making himself vulnerable, and having the whole of his career and his early life out in the open made him twitchy.

We didn't know how hard it would be when we began making the programme. `He's not like his public image,' we told editorial planning meetings. `He can be warm, he's terribly funny.' And indeed he can be, just not when there's a microphone within the same postal area. I was prepared to accept this. At the end of the day I was a complete coward and was not going to lean over Sir Edward like a nanny with a spoonful of cod-liver oil and tell him if he didn't wear his microphone then he wouldn't get any ice-cream.

My producer, Julian Joyce, is tougher. He belongs to the Marine Corps speak-intothis-or-eat-lead school of journalism. It culminated in hysterical attempts to record `some small talk', and a trip to Heath's Kent constituency, where he was due to sign copies of his book for local party workers. We weren't allowed in. BBC Regional TV had done a story the night before about members of his constituency party wanting to get shot of him because he's too old. He wasn't happy with the BBC. After an hour in a corridor negotiating with people from his office (I conciliatory and Jules talking about concrete boots) we were finally allowed in. We managed to record a grunt. …

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