Monday, 12 November 2007

Meeting your heroes

"Without heroes, we are all plain people and don't know how far we can go." Bernard Malamud

Meeting heroes is a risky business, but who can resist when given the opportunity? I recently had the chance to meet and interview Peter Snow who I first remember from Tomorrow's World. Growing up without a dad, grandads or uncles around, television helped fill in the gaps, and for me like many others, Peter was everyone's favourite uncle, who over the years taught me about inventions, politics, lost civilizations and bygone battles.

He's a wonderful chap, every bit as warm and funny as you'd imagine, though much more calm and relaxed than people make him out to be. It really was great fun, but as I've promised to stop boring my friends with the story, here it is one last time. Thanks Peter!

- Mid Wales & Border Living / Border Counties Advertizer -

Peter Snow and David Lawson at the Ludlow FestivalFrom Newsnight to Twentieth Century Battlefields, for more than 50 years, Peter Snow has been one of the most respected and recognisable faces on British television, taking time out from a hectic schedule to talk to Chief Reporter David Lawson.

“David, how wonderful! Delighted to meet you.” Peter Snow, bursting with enthusiasm is clearly enjoying himself as he comes off stage after his Battlefields lecture, the final event of this year’s Ludlow Festival.

Most will recognise Snow from BBC2’s Twentieth Century Battlefields, or remember his Newsnight and election broadcasts. As for me, having grown up watching Peter on shows like Tomorrow’s World, when I became a reporter I was determined to try and emulate that same style and energy in my own reports. It’s not often you get to meet your heroes, so I had jumped at the chance to meet him in person.

There aren’t many people who make me look small, but at a little under 6ft 6ins, Snow towers over the crowd gathered at the exit to Ludlow’s Assembly Rooms, telling him how much they enjoyed the evening. As they head home, Peter and I make for one of the nearby pubs and sit outside.

“So what did you think?” he beams keenly, eager for a second opinion, not that he need worry. After more than 50 years broadcasting from around the world, he’s a polished presenter and his latest Battlefields series has given him plenty to talk about: “They’re such pivotal events,” says Peter on people’s fascination with wars, “They’re moments when whole nations could have taken massively different paths, but of course the reason we find them so powerful is the human sacrifice involved.”

Focusing on this human element has been the job of his historian son Dan, and Peter tells me working alongside him has been one of the unexpected pleasures of a career, that taken the father-of-six from Diplomatic and Defence Correspondent for ITN, to BBC Newsnight presenter, alongside election broadcasts, Tomorrow’s World, a host of other programmes, a CBE... did I mention he survived a plane crash?

He was once even asked to audition for the role of James Bond, until he arrived at the studio and they realised how tall he was (“I always thought I’d have made a better Q”) and more recently learned he had a grown son living in France he had known nothing about, responding to the stunning news in typical Snow fashion: “It was a wonderful experience,” he said at the time, “I’ve got to know him very well. It was all very exciting!”

As well as his work on Radio Four, one of his most recent projects included being given the city of Pompeii to himself for a night to host the real-time history show 'Pompeii Live': "That was wonderful," he remembers, "Terribly frustraiting, because of course what we really wanted to show was the excavations, where as the authorities wanted us to promote their conservation work, but nevertheless a great experience."

His trademark over the years has been the use of cutting-edge computer graphics and the Battlefields series has been no exception. So what’s his latest invention? “...we created a map case which opens up to show moving troops, tanks and aircraft and shows an overview of the battle. There’s a huge amount of work involved,” enthuses Peter, “You’re constantly working with the graphics team to see what’s possible and what we can do next, it’s tremendously exciting.”

Swept along by his bouncing enthusiasm as Peter asks about my own reporting and talks eagerly about the sailing trip he’s planning to Canada, it’s impossible to believe he will be 70 next year, and even after a four hour drive from London, an energetic two hour lecture and a trawl around Ludlow with a young reporter, as we finish our drinks it’s me who is caught flagging first, trying to hide a yawn.

People warn that you shouldn’t meet your heroes, in case they disappoint you... but I think some people just need better heroes.