Good week for Lord Mandelson

Disraeli said of one of Gladstone's governments as it neared the end of its term of office:

Mandelson: Not an exhausted volcano
Mandelson: Not an exhausted volcano

‘Behold the range of exhausted volcanoes. Not a flame flickers on a single pallid crest.' As we live out the fag end of Gordon Brown's administration, the same applies. Well, almost. Peter Mandelson's crest certainly flickers.

On Wednesday's Today programme, Mandelson had to defend Gordon Brown's mis-spelt letter of condolence to the mother of a soldier killed in Afghanistan. But what a turn it was.

He seized control of the interview and took it firmly onto his ground - attacking the Sun newspaper, not discussing the letter. He gave us a great soundbite ‘the Sun's bad taste and crude politicking' which was picked up by many news organisations. I suspect we will hear that phrase again and again as we near the election.

He did not allow himself to be interrupted; he used vivid examples (he had clearly read or been briefed on the complaints on the BBC's own website about their and the Sun's coverage of the letter).

He turned the interview into an attack on his political opponents (who were not part of the story). He sowed doubt in his audiences' minds as to what ‘contract' and ‘bargain' (nice damning language) the Conservatives had struck with The Sun for its support (although that does rather imply that Labour struck a contract for The Sun's support between 1997 and 2009!).

He then tossed in a verbal grenade by suggesting that The Sun and Sky News influenced the BBC's political coverage. This put them on the back foot and it dominated much of the broadcast media agenda for the rest of the day.

The Dark Lord then left the building.

Key lessons:

Listen to the interview.

Just listen to the interview.


Bad week for Felicity Loudon (Great grand-daughter of Cadbury's founder)

The eyes have it? Blink and you'll miss it? Or maybe just ‘Blink' (one for the Doctor Who fans)?

As broadcasters' resources are stretched, ‘down-the-line' TV interviews are increasingly common. Interviewees in one location talk to a camera, listening via an earpiece to the journalist who is questioning them from the studio.

These can be quite difficult interviews for three reasons. First, it is unnatural to be talking to a camera rather than a person. Second, it can be unnerving not to be able to see the journalist and thus assess their reaction to your answers. And third, while these interviews may take place inside or outside of your premises, if you are in a ‘down-the-line studio', these are often tiny box rooms. There is a camera to stare at and a green baize screen behind you (onto which the broadcaster will project an image that audiences will see but you cannot) and nobody else.

So the interviewee needs discipline and concentration to manage such interviews to best effect. Felicity, discussing Kraft's bid for Cadbury, gave us a masterclass in how NOT to do it. Her eyes wander all over the place which makes them look uncertain and distracts the audience from her messages.

Key lessons:

When doing a ‘down-the-line' TV interview, stay still and look directly through - ‘down-the-barrel' - of the camera. If your ear piece falls out, don't hold it close to your ear - just put it back in.

If you feel you must look away, don't look up or to the left or right. That makes you look nervous and uncertain. Look down - it suggests you are thinking. At the end, maintain your eye contact with the camera until you are told that the interview is over.



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