ITV Central presenter Bob Warman has been a guest in the front rooms of Midlands homes for decades. Here he talks about bending the rules, ratings, trust, technology, shyness and more
How important is the on-screen chemistry between the two programme anchors?
I'm often asked "why does it take two news presenters?" Why indeed? It doesn't take two people at the other end of the phone, talking to you in alternate sentences. Or over a drink at the bar, a person talking to you interrupted by a second person every other sentence.
Television bends the rules in pursuit of visual stimulation. It's less about "chemistry" than the ability to make this bizarre arrangement appear perfectly natural.
Most regional (and national) programmes such as Central News at 6 feature a senior male presenter and a younger female presenter. Would the programmes work with the roles the other way around. Or with an all male or all female presenting duo as the main presenters?
Any permutation could succeed but what's likely to work best? Given the artificiality of having two presenters, merely a style, the set-up tends to opt for expected norms - most husbands are older than their wives and the majority of partners are composed of a man and a woman. But the rules can be broken, and very successfully vis-a-vis Richard and Judy.
Who, mentally, are you addressing when presenting the programme?
Several different audiences, including my peers, but in my mind's eye is a grey haired woman in her mid-sixties living in the suburbs. She's intelligent, remembers post war austerity, doesn't believe a word the politicians say, and is increasingly confused by today's complex world where accepted standards of behaviour are sneered at. So, no swearing, no mucky innuendos, but plenty of humour where it naturally exists.
And what's your proudest moment/best story?
Two very different occasions spring to mind. One, the Birmingham bombings where we were the first TV crew on the scene scrambling together the most accurate reports against incredibly tight deadlines. In those days we were shooting on film which had to go through a laborious developing and editing process. Second, the first ITV Telethon in 1988. Thirty six hours non-stop. In presenting terms, like climbing Everest, and we repeated the exercise in '90 and '92.
What was your worst on screen moment?
In 34 years of live television I've had several "worst moments" including a producer once telling me that I had "ten minutes to say goodnight". It's one reason why I never go into a studio without an evening newspaper close by. At least I can read out the evening's TV schedules in desperation.
The trust of viewers is vital - how do you achieve that?
I'm in the happy position of not having to sell something, or promise something I can't deliver. I don't have to lie or exaggerate to achieve my ends. All I have to do is to tell it how it is in a hopefully pleasant and understanding manner. I've always tried to resist hamming it up with a lot of arm-waving or mawkish histrionics. I'm sure viewers see through all that. The best compliment I'm ever paid is when a viewer talks to me in the street and says "you're just like you are on the telly".
Who is the best news presenter you have ever seen or worked with?
Those newscasters with lived-in faces. Sandy Gall, Alistair Burnet, Peter Woods and so forth. Presenters who looked as though they'd experienced the type of action they were newscasting about.
I'm equally fascinated by some of my younger colleagues and how they seem very at ease with the technology and methodology of TV news.
They are very good indeed and there are some current Central Tonight presenter/reporters who are destined for great things.
What is the perfect mix of stories for successful programme?
There is no fixed formula, otherwise we would trot it out every day. Some days begin with little promise when it's quiet on the news front. It's an opportunity to develop a current issue or pursue a specialist subject which can produce a memorable edition, and one which elicits significant viewer response.
A typical programme features a natural lead story to head it up, followed by a regional round-up, and a mix which includes some human interest, a current issue, a sports round-up with plenty of action and gossip, softer feature items and a light-hearted tailpiece supported by entertaining voxpops. All cemented together by well-shot pictures, crisp editing, lively presentation and intelligent observation.
How does Central's News at 6 differ from the BBC's Midlands Today in content and style?
We are different and always have been. We run leaner and I'm tempted to say, keener, in the way that a commercial organisation will always try and beat off the competition. We don't have the luxury of being funded by licence fees and that inevitably gives us a different mindset.
Do you view ratings as a crucial indicator of success?
It's the only indicator.
Midlands Today has an enormous advantage airing half an hour later with an inheritance factor leveraged off its national news. Much of our audience is still stuck on the motorways at 6.00. That said, we hold up well against the BBC's national 6.00 news.
Who played the most important role in developing your career?
I've worked under some fine editors and producers, including at one time my late brother, Mike, who possessed unbeatable news judgment and gave me no quarter, probably to deflect any suggestion of nepotism. But it was a former editor of the Birmingham Evening Mail who, reviewing my application for a salary increase, suggested I was wasting his time and mine. Angered, I seized the initiative and got a job at BBC Radio for double the lolly. So yes, he did me a big favour.
Is a journalistic background essential, an advantage, or not really necessary to do the job well?
Not essential but an advantage. Disciplines picked up from newspapers teach you to spot the real story and write about it economically and edit pictures in the same manner. It also helps you to quickly understand what you are reading and communicate it so much more effectively. I see some presenters parroting off the autocue with only the vaguest notion of what they are talking about.
What attributes did you lack when you started on screen that you have now gained?
In a word, confidence. I battled shyness as a kid and it's an affliction that can hobble you for life. Television helped me beat it. Over the years I've come across other presenters and actors who appear standoffish, but in fact are quite shy and only feel confident when they are performing.
Just how irritating, or helpful, is it to have info bellowing into you ear during a programme?
In a live programme, it's a lifeline. Not only are you receiving vital instructions on which camera to address, or whether to go to a live inject from a reporter out in the field, but you can anticipate problems that lie ahead and deal with them. A useful byproduct by the way, is that you acquire the ability to listen to a private conversation whilst engaged in conversation yourself!
Off-screen, who is the most important player in putting together a good programme?
It's such a team effort it's almost invidious to single out an individual. Is it the dispatch rider who breaks the speed limit and risks his neck to bring back the lead story from a reporter in the field? Or the input editor pushing the crews and reporters to deliver against tight deadlines? But while the editor carries overall responsibility, the final composition of the programme lies with the producer. For the duration of the programme the producer is controlling the flow and shaping the product right up until the final credits. Not a job for someone with high blood pressure.
How much feedback - email/letterwise - do you personally get from the public?
More than I can genuinely cope with. The pen has become almost redundant in favour of the keyboard. I try and reply to all of them but there are other priorities. Interestingly, a viewer boiling with rage over some issue will usually resort to letter writing. It lies on the desk demanding a response.
How much do you enjoy the "celebrity" side of the job?
The word "celebrity" has been so overworked it's almost a pejorative term in my books.