Review of the year: 2020
Covid-19 has dominated the headlines this year and will continue in 2021. Mostly unrelated to the pandemic, it has been been a year where much-loved friends and family have passed. Like everyone, social contact has been limited, unless it’s taken place over a screen. There has been a lot of sadness, that’s for sure. It doesn’t need dwelling on, which is why I thought I’d make this review a look back at things to be grateful for.
JANUARY – MARCH
Life continued relatively normally up until March, although the virus was starting to spread more widely. At work I was out and about, reporting on stories. Then, the week before lockdown, I achieved a long-held dream which was to studio produce the breakfast programme.
A holiday of a lifetime had been planned for April to visit New York City to watch a Broadway show and see the sights. It wasn’t to be this year but I’m glad to have took the plunge to book something I had wanted to do for so long. The plans will hopefully not go to waste, when life gets a bit more normal and holidays can resume.
STAYING AT HOME
I started working from home on 19 March 2020, shortly before Prime Minister Boris Johnson asked the nation to do the same, during the first lockdown. Underlying health conditions mean I’m classed as clinically vulnerable to coronavirus. As restrictive as staying at home for such an extensive period may seem there are advantages.
Not having to commute to work gave me extra time in each day. It’s been lovely to spend this with my fiancé, who has been shielding with me. When we both worked together in Blackburn we were able to take our lunch breaks together and it’s been nice to do this again, usually with our cat sitting on one of our knees!
In a busy life it’s all too easy to overlook some of the simple things that bring joy. I’d never paid too much attention to the changing of the seasons before. Noticing the plentiful flora and fauna around us and the way it transforms and continues – despite what nature throws at it – became a metaphor for the year. This enhanced awareness of the world around us is something I hope to take with me beyond 2020.
One of the best things I did at the start of the first lockdown was to set my parents up on an iPad. Something we won’t look back on because it’s been a great way to communicate. I normally visit my family in Manchester a lot and vice versa. To have this contact restricted has been difficult. Video calling on FaceTime has helped massively to feel a sense of connection, for which I’m grateful.
Using Zoom and Microsoft Teams has kept me connected to colleagues too. I was delighted to give a talk to journalism students at my former university, UCLan, remotely using this technology. Video conferencing also enabled me to be involved in BBC’s England’s Diversity Action Group. Connecting people and ideas across the north. I’m passionate about diversity, inclusion and equality and am glad I can be involved in this important area, alongside my job as a journalist.
This blog was updated more than I expected, as a way to document and diary my time, particularly as I was shielding. It’s been cathartic to do this and I hope one day I can look back on these posts when Covid-19 is a distant memory. This year has allowed me time to expand the pages on this website and very soon the content will all be able to be accessed by visiting www.katybooth.com.
A DREAM COME TRUE
In this challenging year, for so many reasons, a career ambition of mine was realised…
I’ve had such a varied career in broadcasting and journalism which has given me valuable experience. For the majority of time, this has either been as a freelancer or via fixed term contracts. I’m at a point in my life where I want to settle, which is something I can now do thanks to becoming a permanent member of BBC staff on a continuing contract. I’m delighted this can be in Cumbria – part of a talented team at a fantastic radio station.
The positive reactions to my posts on social media about this step in my career have been phenomenal. Thank you to everyone who has got in touch with kind comments It’s been nice to share such a joyous moment with so many people.
2020 has taught me not to take anything for granted – to take a day at a time. My thoughts are with everyone who has lost loved ones to Covid-19 or other causes. Just because the date changes doesn’t mean the problems of the pandemic will go away. We all need to be as vigilant as ever. However, a new year brings new hope. I wish you health and happiness in 2021. Stay safe.
Review: Romantics Anonymous
“The show must go on”, as the old adage of theatre goes. Although, during the coronavirus pandemic, this has been incredibly difficult for the arts and entertainment industry. Any ticketed indoor venue has to weigh up the social distancing and sanitising costs against any potential profit they can make by putting on a show with a reduced audience. For a lot of theatre companies, it’s currently not a viable option.
Therefore, for many of us, we have to think back to pre-lockdown times to remember the last occasion when we were sat in an auditorium together, watching a live performance on stage. However, this past week offered a chance to see the latter streamed live into our own homes. On Tuesday, this was supporting theatres across the north of the UK, where the doors have been closed to the public for at least the last six months.
The performance was Romantics Anonymous, put on by the Wise Children theatre company. The story is based on the French-Belgium romantic comedy film Les Émotifs Anonymes, which has been adapted into a musical by Emma Rice. The plot is predominantly set in a chocolate factory. It follows the lead characters: Angélique – a shy chocolatier, and Jean-René – the factory manager, as they fall in love despite their social anxieties.
All the actors have been in a bubble together, which meant there was no social distancing necessary on stage – they could sing, dance and kiss each other, just like in old times. The performance was streamed live from Bristol Old Vic and each night this supported theatres in a specific region of the UK or the USA, with the funds generated in the price of a virtual ticket. Theatres close to my heart, as well as geographically, that were hosting the show that I saw were Theatre by the Lake in Keswick, The Lowry in Salford and Home, Manchester.
It was great escapism to watch this musical; for a couple of hours, life felt normal again. The story was sweet, just like chocolate, and I particularly liked the stylised elements of the staging – there were hardly any doors used on set, for example. The car chase scene was also performed innovatively without a physical car, as such. No spoilers – but there was mini remote controlled version!
Another adage of theatre is “the smell of the greasepaint, the roar of the crowd” – or is it the other way around? There was a socially distanced show performed to a seated audience at the end of the week. However, for the majority of the shows, there may not have been an audience in person to see the performance but it will have been enjoyed by many people, viewing over a screen as part of 2020’s ‘new normal’.
2019: My year in review.
If last year was the year to embrace change then the ante was upped in 2019; new job, new house… new cat!
I started 2019 on a high. Last New Year’s Eve I presented my first live radio show in years, since immersing myself in broadcast journalism. The programme was ‘Songs from the Shows’ on BBC Radio Lancashire and featured movie musical hits.
The buzz of live radio is why I love my job; there’s nothing like it. I presented Eclectic 80s live on Good Friday, alongside my main role producing the drivetime programme. Lancs will always have a special place in my heart because that’s where I got my first paid work in the industry, before moving to commercial radio and coming back again.
In summer, I transferred further north, to BBC Radio Cumbria. A station I knew previously, having done work experience there. I’m based in Carlisle and moved home from Blackburn to Milnthorpe. The drive to work takes over an hour, but it’s probably one of the most scenic commutes in the country.
In under six months I feel like I’ve developed so much, as a person and a journalist. Learning the intricacies of a new patch has been an exciting challenge. I get to do the newsroom roles I’m familiar with, like bulletin reading and reporting. I’ve learnt new skills too – including making video content for the social media pages and produced the station’s overnight general election coverage. The team have been so welcoming and I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity.
At the beginning of the year I made a resolution to update this blog more often and set myself a target of posting at least one new entry a month. I’m glad to say that, once I publish this post, I’ll have hit that target. I think I’ve written some of my best pieces this year, including my take on the changing local radio landscape and disability representation in the media.
It’ll be an early night for me, this New Year’s Eve. My alarm clock will go off in the wee small hours of the morning because I’m reading the breakfast news bulletins on BBC Radio Cumbria. It’s great to be able to start 2020 by doing what I love. Happy New Year!
Review: Mrs Lowry and Son
L.S. Lowry has always been an artist I was acutely aware of. Whether you like his paintings or not, his artistic influence is around the area I grew up in Greater Manchester and beyond. After all, those were the industrial landscapes he became synonymous for.
Everywhere I’ve lived I’ve had a print of Lowry’s hanging on the wall and at school we sang the “Matchstick men and matchstalk cats and dogs” song in assembly. We went on field trips to Salford Quays, first in 1999 to see the Lowry Arts and Entertainment centre being built and after the millennium to see plays performed there and to visit the galleries – something I’ve continued into adulthood.
I wanted to see the film Mrs Lowry and Son but was disappointed to learn it wasn’t being shown at my local cinema and the nearest showings were difficult for me to get to in south Cumbria. Luckily, a community screening of the film was shown this weekend at the Arnside Educational Institute, by The Dukes Theatre in Lancaster.
The film was a delight, mostly a double header featuring Vanessa Redgrave and a trim Timothy Spall. I can’t imagine any other actors playing those roles. Spall has got the demeanour of Lowry and I had to admire Redgrave’s Salfordian accent, similar but in many ways distinct from Mancunian and she captured it.
It’s mostly a double header between the two and tells the story of Lowry at the beginning of forging a career as an artist. Seeing beauty within people and in a landscape that others dismiss. The narrative follows Lowry’s search for acceptance in his work but mostly from his own mother.
There’s some stylised elements, which play nicely alongside the realism of the story. Mill workers stopping in their tracks so Lowry can examine their intricacies is an example, as is the ending… which you’ll have to watch to find out what happens!
Although set in Pendlebury, it was nice to see certain scenes set in my hometown of Stockport. The Crowther Street steps feature prominently and there’s a nod to the photograph where Lowry is seen with the viaduct in the background.
The interval interrupted the narrative flow somewhat, but gave a glimpse into cinema’s past appropriate for the time period that the action takes place. It allowed for a raffle to be drawn and for the audience to discuss what they had seen. There was a lovely community feeling to the screening, something that you can sometimes miss at a larger multiplex.
As with most films, it’s special to view as a collective experience and the same can be said for this, with many humorous touches and moments of tension. Mrs Lowry and Son is a particularly poignant film but subtly done. At only an hour and half running time the film, like the man himself, is unassuming but filled with artistry on every level.
Last chance to listen: Eclectic 80s
It’s the decade of big hair, big shoulder pads and even bigger songs.
That’s why, over the Easter period, I wanted to present a specialist music programme dedicated to the music that defined a decade. It’s a popular radio format for a reason and these songs ‘test well’ with listeners.
If the BBC wants to attract younger audiences then I think music of this era is a great way to do it. It evokes memories for those who remember the decade for those who lived it and appeals to those who didn’t. I think it’s testimony to how good the sound of the time was because programmes – and indeed entire radio stations dedicated to the decade – prove so popular.
When I was starting out in my broadcasting career I learnt a lot from the likes of DJ Caz Matthews at North Manchester FM. A few years later, I appeared on BBC Radio Manchester’s 80s programme firstly with Manchester musician Clint Boon and latterly Stuart Ellis. I was delivering travel bulletins into the programme at the time and a great advantage was that I got to hear a lot of the output! I know 80s is a format well done by very knowledgable and experienced presenters, which is why I wanted to do something a little different an put my own spin on things: I pitched “Eclectic 80s”.
My programme on BBC Radio Lancashire celebrates the niche, the novelty and great songs you don’t often hear on the radio. Wham! was the most requested band in my running order but, instead of what you might expect, I played ‘Young Guns’, when was the last time you heard that?
80s computerised TV host Max Headroom makes an appearance with The Art of Noise for ‘Paranoimia’, in what arguably takes the title of most eclectic song played in the whole two hours – and proudly so!
Also, I channeled Brett Davison’s ‘Tricky TV theme teatime teaser’ by playing the full theme from the TV show ‘Moonlighting’, which starred Bruce Willis – back when he had hair. It was performed by the late, great Al Jarreau and producer by Nile Rodgers of Chic. I’ll post a full tracklist at end of this blog post.
I was so proud of this programme, especially with the amount of interaction that I got while on-air. I wasn’t expecting much as it was Good Friday evening, but people got in touch to say they were listening, to tell me what they were doing and share their memories of the 1980s.
It’s only available on BBC Sounds for a few more days so if you fancy a quirky couple of hours to re-live the new wave, new romantic and synth pop style that defined a decade, follow the link here and re-run the fun: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p075j96b
Stomp! – The Brothers Johnson
Sweet Surrender – Wet Wet Wet
Oh Patti (Don’t Feel Sorry For Loverboy) – Scritti Politti
Here Comes The Rain Again – Eurythmics
Rain or Shine – Five Star
The King of Rock n Roll – Prefab Sprout
You’re the Best Thing – The Style Council
My Old Piano – Diana Ross
Moonlighting – Al Jarreau
Kissing with Confidence – Will Powers feat. Carly Simon
Dancing with Tears in my Eyes – Ultravox
Let’s Wait Awhile – Janet Jackson
Danger Zone – Kenny Loggins
Chant No. 1 (I Don’t Need this Pressure On) – Spandau Ballet
Too Shy – Kajagoogoo
Sweet Love – Anita Baker
Young Guns (Go For It) – Wham!
Bridge to your Heart – Wax
This Woman’s Work – Kate Bush
Paranoimia – The Art of Noise feat. Max Headroom
Rosanna – Toto
Here we Are – Gloria Estefan
Don’t Look Down (The Sequel) – Go West
January, February – Barbara Dickson
Half a Minute – Matt Bianco feat. Basia
Thinking of You – The Colour Field
My One Temptation – Mica Paris
Down to Earth – Curiosity Killed The Cat
Waiting for a Train – Flash and the Pan
Strictly Come Dancing in Blackpool
It’s that time of year where one of the biggest shows on TV comes to Lancashire. When Elstree Studios are in use for BBC Children in Need, the south’s loss is the north’s gain because this was the week when Strictly came back to the spiritual home of ballroom dancing – Blackpool!
BBC Radio Lancashire had been given tickets to review the hottest show in town and was raffling them off for a lucky member of staff. Having watched all this series and become somewhat of a super fan of course I was going to enter… and won! I’d got engaged the previous weekend, so it added to the memories and became a wonderful engagement gift from the station to me and my fiancé.
We had to arrive at Blackpool Tower for 15:30 and were taken to the VIP holding area. It was sequin central as we made our way among the glitz and glamour to Jungle Jim’s play area to wait to be allowed in the studio. Former pro dancers Ian Waite and Natalie Lowe were on hand to welcome guests next to the cuddly toy grabbers and climbing frames. There was something surreal but down to earth about it all.
An hour later and we were allowed in into the famous Tower Ballroom. Mobile phones were confiscated from guests on entry, probably to stop everyone’s necks craning down during the presenters’ links. While this scuppered any chance of a selfie or a Facebook check-in it actually gave a chance to soak up the atmosphere and take in the resplendent surroundings. If there’s any room that you’d want to spend six hours of your life this would be one of them – and it’s a good job because that’s exactly what we did.
After a quick warm up by a man wearing the obligatory glittery jacket, the musical performances were recorded. Our floor seats were to the right of the stage and three rows from the front which gave amazing views of all the dances, Gloria Estefan and Take That. During the boys’ performance in particular the ballroom’s dance floor literally sprung into action. When all the dancers were jumping in sync we could see and feel the floor bouncing up and down in time to the music. The show was going live on BBC One at 18:45 and right before transmission began The Foundations ‘Build me up Buttercup’ gets the audience geared up for the show. The familiar title sequence played – we clapped along – and were live.
It’s an impressive production in every area; from the talent in front of camera to the crew behind the scenes who work incredibly quickly changing the sets and clearing the floor between dances, while the training VTs are playing. As well as watching the dance choreography it was also fascinating to see how the show was filmed. The audience was on good form all night, with standing ovations and applause aplenty. Then the room erupted when the first perfect score of 40 for this series was awarded by the judges to Ashley Roberts and Pasha Kovalev for their jive set in a fish and chip shop.
As you can imagine, when the live show finishes and the voting lines open there’s a mad dash for a much needed loo break but to keep our spirits up the production team hand out a Freddo chocolate frog and carton of orange juice, while packets of Haribo sweets are thrown into the audience for a sugar boost. As I was making my way across the dance floor I bumped into Charles Venn from Holby City, who had a quick chat and shook my hand. *Swoon!*
The results show is recorded after voting lines close and it’s a much longer process as the team is taking different shots and re-takes; the opening sequence was recorded around three times, for example. This show isn’t shot in sequence, so some of the presenter links or chats with Claudia are filmed in a different order to what you see in the final edited programme on screen.
Then it was time for the the dance-off with former cricketer Graeme Swann against newsreader Kate Silverton. It was Kate and her partner Aljaz Skorjanec who had their last dance but what a fab-u-lous place to have it – in the Blackpool Tower Ballroom. I feel privileged to have watched the production of Strictly Come Dancing – a programme that is a credit to the BBC. It was a long night but an unforgettable experience.
Here’s the moment I appeared on Strictly, for a fleeting glance, at the end of Stacey and Kevin’s performance…
Radio reflections of 2016
This time last year, I made a decision that would affect how my whole year would pan out. I decided, after much consideration, to go back to freelancing. This was such a big decision because staff jobs in radio are like gold dust. But in 2016, I took a leap of faith.
As a result of that ‘Sliding Doors’ moment, I have had wonderful experiences and am going to share some of those with you in this blog. I spent the majority of my time in newsrooms across the North West. This past year has been quite extraordinary journalistically, in the stories that have dominated the headlines.
Just some stand out moments were when I was newsreading for Revolution 96.2 the day of the Hillsborough Verdicts, at Wireless Group the day Theresa May became Britain’s new Prime Minister and at BBC Lancashire the day after ‘Brexit’, as well as the day the announcement of the government’s decision to allow fracking in the county – a day when people from across the BBC were looking at my scripts.
I left 2BR in February and spent six months as a freelancer, before settling down at BBC Lancashire. Much of my freelancing was spent double shifting. Looking back now, I don’t know how I had the energy! I would finish a morning shift at one radio station, have lunch as quick as I could, then hot foot it down the M6 to the INRIX travel centre. I had some fixed hours there that helped guarantee while I was freelancing I could at least afford to pay the rent and bills for my flat.
There wasn’t a week I went without work though – one of my new year’s resolutions for 2017 is to have a holiday! I have been an INRIX travel broadcaster for almost three years and was pleased to get chance to be an information editor and see the other side of how the bulletins are put together. The travel hub is a hive of activity and it was great to be part of the afternoon team.
Rejoining BBC Lancashire was like I’d never been away! I was originally with the station in 2013 as a Broadcast Assistant and came back as a Broadcast Journalist in 2016. I’ve done almost every role in the newsroom from reading sport bulletins during the Euro 2016, the Olympics and Paralympics. To updating the Lancashire ‘Local Live’ pages of our website – covering the progress of Graham Liver and the team pulling a bed from Pudsey to Bare in aid of BBC Children in Need for BBC News Online. No two days are the same and I love the variety of my work.
My usual role is producing Gary Hickson at teatime, which is a real honour. When I was first with BBC Lancashire I was mostly a reporter for Gary’s programme and it’s great to produce the show I had previously worked so closely on. Gary is a talented broadcaster who brings out the best in me, keeps my feet on the ground and the programme’s rising RAJAR ratings speak for themselves.
It’s a dream come true to read news bulletins on the BBC and I count that as my biggest achievement of the year. I thrive in a live breaking news environment and it’s liberating to have so much creative freedom. I’ve loved bantering on the breakfast team, reading the extended news bulletins at one o’clock and the doing the double headed news with Gary at five o’clock too.
We embrace social media and I was proud to be the first person at the station to do a live news bulletin both on-air concurrently while broadcasting on Facebook Live. At the time of writing, Facebook stats show that broadcast has reached almost 94,000 people. Amazing… and it brings a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘Face for the radio’! You can see it HERE.
That’s just a snapshot; there’s been so many memorable moments to mention. Thanks to everyone who’s made 2016 such an enjoyable year. As for 2017… stay tuned!
Review: Invisible Circus – No Dress Rehearsal.
Inside Circus: No Dress Rehearsal, directed by Naomi Smyth.
The film gives an insightful look into the stylish modern day circus underworld. Behind the glitz and glamour lies turmoil as these performers have to move from pillar to post in order to find appropriate venues to stage their shows.
Set in gritty urban Bristol, the film highlights just how many lifeless buildings do lie derelict in our cities. The Invisible Circus team ‘pitch up their tent’ (metaphorically speaking!) in all manner of places; from a disused Audi garage to a cathedral, police station and a cinema from yesteryear. It’s disheartening to see them evicted from what they have turned into vibrant community spaces, but squatting and moving on is a way of life for the Invisible Circus. Through sheer dedication to their craft they take on the council and developers who are playing Legoland with the city. Their plight is difficult at times but they manage to overcome it again and again in order to stage mesmerising shows.
It’s an uplifting message which underlies the raw reality of the film; proving that with passion, talent and hard work you can overcome your obstacles, just like these skilled performers did. The ringmaster couldn’t have said it better:
“From the dizzy heights of the trapeze to sweeping up after the audience leaves… We’re all stars of the show. Life is no dress rehearsal.”
When Invisible Circus comes to town on a screen near you make sure you catch it!
For more information go to: www.invisiblecircusfilm.com