Right to Reply – my experience on the show in 2001

Right to ReplyRight To Reply – Broadcast Friday April 6th, 2001 on Channel 4

I am a member of the Right To Reply 500, which once had its own website, and after emailing the show in late January about the unnecessary need (in my opinion) of adding a DOG (Digitally-Originated Graphic, aka onscreen logo) to their new channel E4, which specialises in American imports, repeats and original widescreen programming, rather like a combination of Sky One and BBC Choice, I was contacted by researcher Ian Lynch, who played the casino croupier onscreen, about the topic of ONdigital smartcard piracy, something which is on the increase lately, particularly in the usenet and newsgroups like uk.tech.digital-tv where traders post their wares – and the monthly cracking codes – regularly without a care in the world and just one of the effects is that it impacts on the genuine subscriptions in the form of increased subscriptions, in similar manner to that those who insure their cars are subsidising those who drive without insurance and have a crash.

I also discussed the topic at length with the director of the segment, Paul Moore, who I don’t recall having seen in front of the camera but his distinctive voice is regularly heard reading out some of the viewers’ comments during the show. The script was put together by the R2R team with the occasional doff of the cap to things we had previously discussed.

Originally, the segment was due to be filmed on April 9th with an air date planned for the following Friday, Friday 13th! Those who saw the programme aired on Friday March 30th would have seen presenter Roger Bolton stating that the next show would be in two weeks. Like many blockbuster films though, they shot two endings: that one and another saying it would be back “next week”. However, on the night of Monday 2nd, just as the staff were about to leave, Channel 4 said that because the election was being put back to June 7th, Channel 4 News would no longer need an hour on Friday 6th and so the race was on to make a show.

I nearly didn’t get to go on the show after that as I’d got the day off on the 9th and wasn’t sure if I could change it to Wednesday 4th, but all came good in the end.

When the day came, I’d had about two hours sleep the night before. This was the first time I’d ever been on TV and I was understandably nervous about it so had trouble sleeping. When 5am came and the alarm clock went off I then had trouble getting up! I had to get the 06.08 train to London Euston which was jam-packed and as (bad) luck would have it I ended up in the ‘Quiet Coach’ so couldn’t use my walkman and saw the carriage as anything BUT quiet since many people ignored the ban on mobile phones and I just wanted to try and get some sleep (managed some, but not a lot).

As if this wasn’t bad enough, when I bought the train ticket at the station I asked for a return to London Euston and was told the price was £150.00. I asked him if this was the cheapest alternative because I just wanted to travel on the train and not buy it. It transpired that saver returns, et al,
aren’t available until after 9am and Virgin‘s website confirms this, so they must like to fleece their customers – and now they’re having the cheek to up the prices by 10%.

Just after 9am I arrived and met up with Paul Moore, where we took a tube to a stop just past Victoria Station and then a train to Battersea, location of the ONdigital HQ which they share with QVC – a channel that isn’t even broadcast by ONdigital (!)

There I met ONdigital bigwigs Andrew Marre and Simon Dore, the latter of which answered the questions I put to him. Like the other two subsequent interviews, I was given a list of questions to ask although I could ask others if need be. After the recording I thought of a question I wish I’d asked, about why ONdigital went with an encryption system that had allegedly already been cracked, compared to SkyDigital’s which hasn’t …yet.

Doing these type of interviews was a bizarre sequence of events. Firstly, the camera was pointed in Simon’s direction and I would ask the questions from the sheet and he would reply, only stopping a handful of times to clarify a question or restart the answer. Once complete, he left, the camera was turned round, Paul Moore sat in his chair, took the questions off me and then I was filmed with Paul reading out the questions for me to read back to him. Sort of reminded me of those French lessons from school where the teacher would say, “Ecoutez… repetez”, except in English.

It was at this recording where I met researcher Ian Lynch, soundman Paul Vigars and cameraman Chris Merry, who also worked on the recent Channel 4 series, Science and the Swastika.

Next up on the menu was lunch. The next part of the day would be spent in the area of Clapham Junction. We were eating an early one just before 12 so the only place open was a Churchill’s pub which served Thai food. It was quite nice but to be honest I hadn’t got a bloody clue what I was actually ordering 🙂

At 1pm we went to a place, the name of which I can’t remember, but it was where we were to film the ‘casino’ piece which topped and tailed the segment. It may have looked stylish and classy, but was shot in a cheesy red velvet-like club above a greengrocer’s and to say it was bloody freezing in there was an understatement :)

Most of the cut-away scenes were filmed first, with Ian as the croupier dealing out cards. When it came time for me to say my lines, it didn’t feel half as nervous as I thought it might, although that only tended to kick in when I had to repeat a line four or five times because I didn’t get it right first off and as I got towards the end of that, my voice would start drying up and losing the impact I was trying to deliver. Sometimes I’d rush a sentence and ONdigital would come out as ‘ONdijjital’ and in another I kept saying ‘customer’ instead of ‘subscriber’. Don’t know why, but it took a little while to break out of that cycle. Note, that as I said earlier, this was the first time I’d done anything like this so if I get another chance I hope I do better next time, although at the time I got positive feedback from the crew and others since it’s been broadcast. I guess for all of us though, our biggest critic is ourself.

There is no autocue and it was surprisingly difficult not to be able to remember a few lines and say it direct to the camera all in one go, so it was broken down into sentences, to be delivered once or twice at a time.

The cut-away scenes I was involved in myself including swigging a glass of ‘vodka on the rocks’ – which was actually Canada Dry – and watching Ian deal some cards while my eyes followed his movement and I occasionally had to look up at him briefly as if I wasn’t to trust him.

N.B.: While shooting these section, soundman Paul picked up electrical interference in the ‘casino’ from me and asked if I was carrying anything electrical on me. I said no, but did say that I’d had an aortic valve replacement operation, which was the cause of it!

At close to 5pm, the next stop was to the Channel 4 building where Right to Reply is filmed, although it wasn’t the building I was expecting that I’ve normally seen on TV.

There I met – and filmed interviews – with both Jack Raith, from the Telecommunications UK Fraud Forum and Dave Green who has worked on the output for 4Later and is the editor of the websites Need To Know (ntk.net) and TV Go Home.com

I’d previously only emailed with Dave and briefly spoken on the phone, so it was good to finally meet him. He was there as we got out of the van and I said who I was, but he didn’t seem to take me on at all. So I said, “DVDfever” ? “DOM!”, came the reply as the penny dropped and while there I also met Zid, who I’ve also emailed with in conjunction with 4Later.

As for the two interviews, they both went very well. Watching the show you wouldn’t believe they were done in the same room, but for the second one the main light was switched off and spotlights set up, with the furniture jigged around a bit. When I shot my questions for Dave’s interview, I was almost sat in the same place.

The day was nearly at an end now and in the last hour or so I was filmed at a computer ‘seeking out information about ONdigital smartcard piracy’. You couldn’t see what was onscreen when I was there as it was blurred out (other web images were added after I’d gone), but I was looking at various pages on Google who have taken over the usenet archive, Dejanews and was asked to type. The only thing I could think of was the only sentence in the English language that I know of which uses all 26 letters of the alphabet: “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog”, over and over again.

Just before I recorded this part I met another of the show’s directors, Heidi Ellert, with whom I have previously spoken on the phone about other TV-related matters.

Finally I had to record all the voiceover parts in their soundproof booth, along with re-doing things I’d said to camera already just in case they didn’t come out later on, so basically going through the script from start to finish.

I left the Channel 4 building just after 8pm and got a taxi back to Euston. Now it’s my own fault, but I should’ve checked the times of the return trips on the way back from London to home when I first arrived. As a result I found I’d missed the 7.58pm train and the next one wasn’t until 10.03pm. Also, because the train companies are no longer allowed to run red lights (!), it meant I didn’t get home until close to 2am.

To add insult to injury, I found myself in the ‘Quiet Coach’ again and to add insult to insult to injury, a young couple boarded the coach… with SIX kids in tow, with the woman and the two youngest (and noisest) sat opposite me. Talk about bad bloody timing!

On the plus side though, the woman checking everyone’s ticket discovered that hubby only had a ticket covering himself and two of the children and as he couldn’t stump up the cash on the spot, he had to provide his address and they’d bill him for the “standard fare” (usually an absolute fortune – and more than the normal cost) for each of the remainders.

To sum up, despite the travel problems and the fact that I was very tired when filming (as it no doubt showed :), I thoroughly enjoyed the entire day.

I couldn’t have asked for a better team to work with and, while I didn’t receive any sort of appearance fee for the presenting, all expenses were reimbursed and it was a fantastic experience that I would recommend to anyone.

If asked to present another slot I would jump at the chance. After all, it’s not going out live so if you cock up your lines you can reshoot it.

Right To Reply was broadcast on Fridays on Channel 4 at 7.30pm, with a late night repeat during the week.

Final note: I cheekily asked if they could add Editor, DVDfever.co.uk under my name when the show went out, but, unsurprisingly, they declined. :)

N.B.: I found out just after midnight on Sunday 22nd April, 2001 that Right To Reply, which has been going for 18 years and was one of the channel’s initial line-up, has been cancelled.

Nothing was said on the final programme (Friday April 20th), nor by email to the “Right To Reply 500”. No reason has been given either, although it shows that Channel 4, once at the forefront of their field, are turning into every other broadcaster by adding DOGs (onscreen logos) to channels like E4 and talking over end credits incessantly whilst scrunching them up despite the fact that things are still going on! (See most episodes of Spaced).

I understand there are to be no redundancies at Channel 4 and I wish everyone involved in the programme, particularly those who I met and/or worked with, the very best of luck in the future.