Through: Michel Buerk
Clive Myrie is, by agreement, a nice guy. TV news is a notoriously b ** chy world. The alpha male deer rivalries of yesterday haven’t gone away now, they’ve been largely replaced by females – they just got more complicated. But Clive stands out.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say that you will never hear a word against him; that would be too much to expect. But even those who fancy his current success find it hard to come up with anything bad to say. This, believe me, is a step towards holiness at New Broadcasting House. And maybe a problem regarding his new role as a questioner on Mastermind.
The idea behind the BBC program is surely some kind of competitive torture. It depends on your definition of cruelty, of course, but the whole thing: the long walk, the deadly drumbeat (the music is actually called Approaching Menace), the lighted chair, the quick-fire questions, are all intended. to turn up the pressure to see if you’re going to crack. I know. I have been in this chair on Celebrity Mastermind. I have never been so nervous.
It was imagined by a BBC producer called Bill Wright, who had been an RAF gunner, taken prisoner during the war. He wanted to give the impression of being questioned by the Gestapo. The three opening questions – Name? Occupation? Specialized subject? – were supposed to echo the three questions prisoners of war were allowed to answer – Name? Rank? Number? Maybe even the slogan “I started so I will finish” was the equivalent of “For you, Tommy, the war is over”.
Almost 50 years ago, the first questioner, Magnus Magnusson, was actually called “the interrogator”. He was encouraged to be severe; fair, but as cold as anyone from Iceland could. When John Humphrys took over, he was warned against any semblance of meekness.
Clive sees it differently. “I hope I’ll be a friendly face when the contestants come in,” he said. He’s even going to wish them luck. When I ask him if he shouldn’t ban, he tells me that I got it all “completely wrong… the questions are forbidding, the chair forbidding. I will not ban. I’m here as a friend and we could potentially have a drink afterwards.
He says the public doesn’t want to see the contestants “squirming”. Yes, it should be a brawl, or “battle royale” as he puts it, “but it’s more likely if I smile”.
It cuts a dashing silhouette in the half-deserted palace of meeting rooms that is today’s Broadcasting House – olive green T-shirt, ironed khaki jeans, baseball boots, branded brown chiffon scarf – all neatly coordinated. and the type of outfit is probably what’s called “combat chic” in the trendy north London corner of Islington where he lives.
Everything is far from Bolton where his Jamaican parents settled in the 1960s. Clive was one of seven children in a family he calls working class. Granted, both parents had factory jobs, although her mother (her Jamaican teaching qualifications were then not considered sufficient for her to teach in the UK) had become a “brilliant” seamstress. a whole clothing department for Mary Quant and Marks & Spencer. They ended up owning two houses and sending five children to college.
Clive had wanted to be a radio journalist since he first saw Trevor McDonald on ITN “for obvious reasons.” His parents wanted him to do something more serious, so he studied law at the University of Sussex. But when he graduated he applied for the BBC internship program.
“I guess they saw the potential,” he says. “Being a black man in a white world has never been a problem for me. What was problematic was the feeling that people might think, “He’s only here because he’s black.” There are a huge number of white men in public schools here – some of my closest friends were chosen precisely for this. What matters is the end product of this sausage maker… If it’s a fat, beefy Cumberland that’s tasty, what’s the problem? And I didn’t do too badly, did I?
No indeed. He has had an enviable career, thanks to his abilities, hard work and good timing. He was lucky that when he took his first steps on local radio and regional television, the world opened up before him. The launch of its 24-hour TV news channel in 1997 meant the BBC needed a lot of low-cost journalists based overseas, rather than the handful of gold-plated foreign TV correspondents when the Ten o ‘ Clock News was all that mattered.
So, young and relatively inexperienced Clive went to Tokyo, Los Angeles, Washington, Paris, Brussels, eventually reporting on around 70 countries, with more than his fair share of raw stuff in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. It probably helped to have a wife who has a mobile career (Catherine renovates antiques), as well as not having children.
After nearly two decades abroad, he returned home to be a presenter on BBC News – in part, he says, because they didn’t want to become another expatriate couple who had “gone native. Partly for the money (“Funny how you get paid a lot less to get shot in Afghanistan than sitting in a studio reading an autocue,” he notes), and partly for giving “A little oomph” in the last stages of his career.
And now, at age 56, someone has turned on the blue tactile paper. It is everywhere in the newsletters of the main chains. He did a series of stories for the Ten o’Clock News on the COVID crisis at Royal London Hospital that were a bit too emotional for me. (He thinks a reporter should “care”; I prefer them dispassionately. Maybe it’s a generational thing.) But they were beautifully produced mini-documentaries, designed to show what it felt like working and suffering there. The impact has been profound. The Royal Television Society named him TV Journalist of the Year, praising his “measured” comments and, on top of that, also named him Network Presenter of the Year. After 35 years on television, it’s an overnight success.
It brought a lot of hatred. Racist emails, BBC standard vitriolic messages, cards with crude designs on the front and even death threats. “Yes, it’s upsetting, but I feel a tremendous sense of pity for these people. The idea that they are superior to me because of their skin color is so pathetic.
He clearly has an interest in the cultural politics of the race but is moving very cautiously. He writes that he “shakes his head” when he comes across cases of discrimination in the United States, for example. Personal journalism, but the commentary is carefully calibrated. With me, he passionately defends “the knee grip”. “People do not understand what this means. Everything has to do with Black Lives Matter. It is a gesture of humility, a moral gesture of shared humanity.
Yet when I ask him if he would take the knee, he refuses to answer me. “Because I work for the BBC. I’m not supposed to have a sight.
Few expected him to get the job of Mastermind. The odds were on a woman, with Samira Ahmed (a Celebrity Mastermind winner) seen as the favorite, just ahead of BBC Breakfast host Naga Munchetty. Ahmed would have been even more favorite if it had been known that she had been secretly hired as Mastermind’s understudy, to take over if anything happened to John Humphrys.
In fact, it’s not clear who else, if anyone, was even auditioned. Clive made his own on Zoom, all donned in one of his Armani suits, from his home office. This is where he trained, trying to find the words and the rhythm.
He’s now recorded 28 shows in six days (Clive falls victim to Humphrys’ workaholic).
“I thought I would be pointing out the fifth show of the day,” he says, “but then you see the contestants. It’s their Olympics, their mountain peak, and the energy level goes all up. right now.
One of the good guys. A rarity, according to its former foreign editor who told me that if he wrote a book on managing journalists and presenters, it would be called They All Turn Out Monsters in the End. “Clive was the exception,” he said, “enough ego to be a good reporter, not enough ego to be painful.”
Clive himself says he has no ambitions beyond Mastermind and what he’s accomplished. “At first I didn’t want my color to define me, now I don’t care. But I hope when the audience sees me, they don’t think, “It’s that black guy, Clive Myrie.” They’re just going to say, ‘It’s Clive Myrie.’ “
Mastermind returns to BBC Two on Monday 23 August at 7:30 p.m. Check out more of our entertainment coverage or visit our TV guide to see what’s happening tonight.