In July this year I was commissioned to write an article on silent film stars Mack Sennett and Mabel Normand for a theatre programme. The work offered a great opportunity to pursue my interest in silent Hollywood cinema, which is outside my usual focus on Britain. My undertaking the article had surprisingly wide ranging benefits. In carrying out the research, I gained new knowledge and strengthened my general understanding of cinema history, and I also wrote using a descriptive, non-academic style for a wider than usual audience.
Following the article’s publication in the theatre programme, I was unexpectedly contacted by a BBC producer and asked to discuss Mabel Normand on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour. Despite serious nerves at the prospect of speaking on national radio, I said yes. Fortunately, the producer, Louise, was very supportive throughout my week of preparation. Louise spoke to me twice prior to the interview to consider different approaches to understanding Mabel’s work, to inform me about my co-panellist (Mabel’s great-nephew, Stephen Normand) and to prepare the interview questions. Our conversations not only helped me rehearse my ideas, but also made me feel involved in the process.
On the day, I went to Broadcasting House—an exciting day out even without the interview—and spent the morning chatting to Stephen in the Woman’s Hour green room. His stories about Mabel and her silent film co-stars were wonderful and I’m glad I had the opportunity to hear his reminiscences and help him bring Mabel's prioneering work to the public's attention. The time passed too quickly while I listened to his stories and we were soon called into the studio. You can hear us by clicking here and, based on my experience, I’ve made some suggestions below about preparing for, and carrying out, radio interviews.
Be prepared: some might say that I over-prepared for the interview. I spent a few hours going over my research and reading additional, secondary sources to ensure I had covered different perspectives on Mabel and her work (including Stephen’s writing). I also surveyed recent work on women in silent film, as I knew the topic would offer context for the interview. Of course, in a ten-minute interview there was not time to talk in detail about the subject. However, my preparation made me feel confident and I felt it was worthwhile.
Speak to the producer and ask questions: discussing my ideas and potential questions with Louise in advance of the interview made me relaxed. In addition, I felt that I was helping shape the conversation, which made the interview more comfortable and less like an exam! I also asked numerous questions about the process (where would I be going, would we be in the same room, etc.), and receiving the answers prior to the event gave me reassurance.
Treat the interview like a conversation with a friend: sitting in the studio opposite Jenni Murray (Dame Jenni Murray, one of two regular presenters on the show) was intimidating at first, and never more so than just before we went on air, when I realised how many people I’d be speaking to: major panic ensued. Here are my tips for getting over the nerves and participating in an interview.