I was 22 and in the middle of my first “live” appearance on television at Reuters. I’d been shoe-horned into a tiny room and left to talk about Alan Greenspan’s appearance before the US Congress. I was going great guns – until an arm shot round the door and squirted me with cold water. It was George Short.
Thankfully, that was only a training exercise. But like countless things I learnt from George during my seven years at Reuters, it’s held me in good stead. That dousing was nothing compared to the perils of reporting live from Oxford Street during half term.
Every budding journalist should have a George. He was training editor at Reuters news agency for years. He’d devise mock trials for us to report on and fictional coups in West African dictatorships. But George didn’t just teach me to write. He also taught me to drink, swear when necessary and generally hold my own with hardened hacks. When I was delivered into his care, I’d gone from convent to Cambridge to the Bank of England. But George soon made it clear he had no truck with fancy Oxbridge types. He put some rough edges on me – I would have been eaten alive without them in the newsroom.
George was from the old school of journalism, the one where grammar, drinking and accuracy, and drinking, featured heavily. He taught me the thrill of chasing a story and the sheer delight of writing. He talked of pieces being made up of pots of colour – a dab here, a dash there. I learnt so much from George until he died in 1997. One of the most memorable things was a technique he taught us – to grab the best space at the bar. It involved a complicated system of categorising drinkers as lions and zebras. But perhaps the most useful piece of advice was on writing. I can still hear his voice as I’m composing my scripts: “Make it sing.”
Jenny Scott is co-presenter with Andrew Neil of The Daily Politics on BBC2