How to present a BBC documentary

If you want to present a BBC documentary, you need to (1) use excessive, random hand movements, or (2) emphasise your R’s in a rrrreally irrritating way.

Here are some examples.


(1) Excessive, random hand movements

— Michael Mosley, The Genius of Invention — 

Watch the first 45 seconds of this clip to see how Michael puts his excessive hand movements in nearly all of the wrong places. By contrast, the excessive hand movements of his co-presenters, Cassie Newland and Mark Miodownik, are in the right places. No future for them as TV presenters, I’m afraid.

— Simon Sebag Montefiore, Rome: A History of The Eternal City — 

Watch 41.18 to 41.25 of this clip, where Simon gesticulates excessively at nearly every word in the sentence, before putting his exhausted hand in his pocket for the only word in the sentence that actually needed any emphasis.

At 53.40 of the same clip, Simon is holding a book, which appears to overload his brain, causing hand-mouth coordination to go totally haywire. Again, Simon’s hand is too tired to gesticulate by the end of the sentence.

The hand-waving approach to TV documentaries is brilliant parodied by David Mitchell here.


(2) Emphasising your R’s in a rrrreally irrrritating way

— Evan Davies, Dragon’s Den — 

In the last few series of Dragons’ Den, Evan has changed ‘dragons’ to ‘dRRRagons’. I can’t find a clip of the actual programme online, but you can hear him say ‘dRRRagons’ on this clip, at 12 seconds, and even more irrrritatingly at 23 seconds. But revealingly, he forgets to do it at 26 seconds – and I’m pretty sure that is how he used to say the word, in the good old days.

Sorry if I’ve now spoiled the programme for you!

— Jim Al-Khalili, Shock and Awe: The Story of Electricity — 

At 3.35 of this clip, hear Jim Al-Khalili say that Michael Faraday “was surrounded by the gRRReat and the good, and he was about to listen to one of the gRRReatest scientific minds of the age” (3.35).

(I have a sudden urge to eat a bowl of Frosties.)

— Howard Goodall —

The king of R-rolling is Howard Goodall, who really doesn’t need to do it: unlike most TV presenters he has a sufficiently dynamic voice that he doesn’t need such gimmicks. He barely does it in his most recent series, The Story of Music, but you can hear it from time to time in his earlier series, as at 20.47 and 20.52 of this clip. Twice in five seconds … surely a touch rrrridiculous?


Please add more examples in the Comments, below. I’m particularly interested to know if there are any TV presenters who do both of these things at the same time.

I don’t want to sound churlish: TV presenters need to do a bit of this kind of thing. Watch Michael Ashcroft presenting Heroes of the Skies and you will see a nice impression of a block of wood.

And it’s not just TV presenters who need to do a bit of this. I pepped up my lecturing style after I saw a video of myself lecturing several years ago – standing still behind a lectern, looking and sounding boring.

Politicians, too. I’m pretty sure I remember Iain Duncan Smith being given body-language training about a year into his leadership of the Conservative party, in a failed attempt to make him seem more charismatic; but he wasn’t very good at it, and I remember one interview where he droned on while his hands did a bizarre tango. He’s got the hang of it now: excessive hand movements, but in the right places (e.g. at 30 seconds onwards of this interview).

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