IT’S 20 years this month since I landed my first job on the Costa del Sol as a presenter on … well, let’s just call it Shoestring TV to avoid a libel writ.
My grandiose title was Head of English Programmes – although, having no staff, I was merely head of myself.
It was my task to produce a daily news bulletin in English, and a weekly chat show; tall order, given the lack of tools, although only bad workmen are supposed to blame them. I called the show Not the BBC with Belinda Beckett & Co. How apt that turned out to be!
There was no autocue and precious-little film footage so I had to talk to camera non-stop. This meant translating into English and memorising a dozen news stories a day.
I bet even the competent Kay Burley of Sky News would have found that a tough call.
As the only place quiet enough to learn my lines was the loo, I spent quite a few hours locked inside getting my head round names like ‘Councillor Marie Concepción Palacio de Pil Pil Gutierrez y Bobadilla’, then trying to remember why I was even talking about her.
When I was more-or-less word perfect we might start the recording; or not. The only functioning camera was often out on location during daylight hours so the ‘rehearsal toilet’ became my second home. Thank heavens it wasn’t live TV, although you had to beg the producer on all fours to do a retake.
The chat shows were worse. No make-up, no wardrobe, no Green Room. Guests, when you could sucker them into coming on the show, were forced to buy their own coffee from a very contrary machine, and hang around in the corridor sipping tepid sludge from polystyrene cups until it was time to go on.
I always had an animal guest star. At least dumb animals don’t complain about the facilities. There was the aquarium filled with piranha fish, the python I wore coiled around my neck, the baby crocodile sat on my lap … The crocodile had its jaws wired up but it should also have worn a nappy…
However the highlight of my short-lived career under the spotlights was also my last day in the profession.
I should explain here that the ‘studio’ was a museum of ball gowns. Yes, we broadcast between the crinolines and the flamenco dresses to a ‘studio audience’ of tailors’ dummies. And one day, the obvious happened.
The risky proximity of scorching spotlights to polyester dresses catalysed into a wildfire.
In the midst of melting mannequins and acrid black smoke, my guests and I rose to flee the building and were promptly ordered to sit down again because Shoestring TV had no budget for a retake!
Needless to say, we flouted these orders and spluttered out to the safety of the street where we watched our floor self-combust. In my own case, I was permanently out on the street, minus my only winter coat and final pay cheque – my broadcasting career also up in smoke.
Today, writing this in my office at home, with access to decent coffee and minus a mad menagerie of pythons, piranhas and incontinent crocodiles, all I can say is ‘thank you, God!’