04 July, 2007

BBC Journo Released - Jim Breathes Easy

It's difficult having comedy Tourettes; to have been grown up in a peer group where everything's fair game so long as it gets a laugh. It means that so many things leap out with comic potential that really, really shouldn't. I'll explain why...

Four months ago, a BBC reporter was kidnapped in Gaza - a terrible thing. Instantly, Alan Johnston became more famous within the BBC than he'd ever been for reporting - everyone knew his name and what he did. Everyone felt anxious about him, everyone prayed for his safe return.

Something struck me one day as I came into work though - what would he make of it all? How would he react to seeing the huge pendant posters of his face that suddenly appeared on the face of TV Centre; the weekly vigils; the front-page news and TV news bulletins about him, rather than his reporting. The videos that his captors made of him showed a man who was incredibly composed under impossible circumstances and I'm sure I'd have been sobbing my eyes out whereas he was so, so dignified. And of course, my first thoughts were always 'Please God, let him be released, safe and well,'

For a moment, my head became full of images of the nearest thing most people have seen to that moment when someone is released from captivity and is faced with a media hungry for news. No, not Terry Waite - Big Brother.

It's not the same - nowhere near - but the questions might be. How did you cope? What were your relationships like with your captors? What did you think of the food? Did you think you'd be in there for so long? It's what they asked Terry Waite and John McCarthy, and it's what they asked Makosi and Nadia.

A few weeks ago, these thoughts became too strong and I knew I had to channel them somewhere or else risk saying them out loud at the wrong time. I found myself writing a comedy sketch for my own amusement, in which Davina was there, interviewing Alan about his time in captivity. I asked a comedy writer friend of mine to read it, and while he was encouraging, he said that no-one would touch such a script until they new Alan was safe, and by then it'd be no longer topical. Even then, it'd probably be in bad taste and he couldn't think of a single team that I could send it to.

Quite right.

But now that we do know he's safe and alive, I can't help wondering again what he'll feel about the banners and the vigils. Wondering if any of the Big Brother contestants will get to see his reaction on TV and maybe consider that their own reactions to voluntary incarceration in a gameshow were perhaps a little over the top in comparison to the very real terror that Alan Johnston faced every day of those four months.

Coincidentally, this week saw the nearest the Channel 4 reality gameshow has ever got to having a housemate leave for genuine life-changing reasons, as businessman Jonathan was informed of his grandmother's death and chose to quit. That made difficult viewing on Channel 4 last night, yet I think it was handled well; we didn't see the moment that Jonathan was informed of her passing, which would have been way too invasive, and the shots chosen were distant, but even then, watching a contestant deal with something real was very upsetting - compared to the usual tantrums over who-ate-whose-chocolate-bar and who-said-what-about-who.

With that in mind, I hope the media doesn't rush too fast to be the first one to get Alan Johnston's 'exit interview'. I for one am not all that eager to hear about his 'best bits'...