This afternoon I was lucky enough to be able to attend a talk by Simon Elmes, creative director of the BBC. He spoke all about his time at the broadcasting giant, and what it takes to work for somewhere like the beeb. Unsurprisingly, it doesn’t seem like the most straight forward of jobs! What he had to say however seemed too interesting not to share!
In the intimate surroundings of the Gibbs Room in Keble, Simon Elmes came in with a massive beam on his face. Insisting he gets everyone in the rooms name, as well as taking an interest in the reasons why they wanted to attend the talk, he made for a friendly opener and he made a note of our names in his notebook as he went along in order to remember us properly. A former Keblite himself, we were privileged to have such a private audience with him (there must have only been 12 of us maximum) as he talked about what he remembered of Oxford and his current and past experience of the BBC. He was a genuinely approachable character and seemed like a really nice bloke…looksies:
It was reassuring to hear that whilst at Keble he had never been the best academically, churning out ‘crap essays’ as he calls them, he even did an arts subject (there is hope for us yet!!), but he clearly relished everything Oxford had given him. He seemed most grateful for the tutorial system, a system which he claims teaches students to think on their feet in the face of challenges. Next time my tutor challenges me and I think ‘oh god’, I’ll have to remember that one!
Talking of his work at the BBC, Simon insisted that within the beeb ‘the currency is ideas’. Without originality and innovation, you have no currency. As a factual storyteller, he argues that you don’t just get a story, you find one, and one of the best way to do this was to listen to people. Even then, this requires teasing out a narrative. What may seem like a boring framework can sometimes produce some of the most interesting narratorial threads, but you simply need to find them first. Its to do with narrative technique, revealing facts, but in a specific order and withholding certain information. Creativity needs to be internalised he said, in order for it to work. Comically, one of his best ideas came to him when drunk in Austria and speaking to a group of Americans. Who knows how the brain works!
I really like the idea of a currency of ideas… the need for creativity. I don’t know if I would want to work with the beeb – never say never – but I love this image of intellectual transaction. Its probably applicable everywhere, even outside the media. But its clear to see that if this is the Beeb’s approach, it is also probably one of the reasons why it is such a monolith in the media industry.
Time to get your thinking caps on! I got his email just in case an amazing idea strikes me at any moment…. 😉
Lots of Love