Ex-BBC Journalist Shares Her Top Tips

Sue Cook

Sue Cook is a former BBC journalist who worked on many of the broadcaster’s flagship programmes

by @amitacjoshi 

“I was shy as a child and felt maybe I would find a job where I could prove myself without having to speak volumes.”

These were the words of Sue Cook, former BBC broadcaster, as she addressed a hall of aspiring journalists at Brunel University.

It was strange to think anyone who’d had a career behind the mic and then in front of the camera could be so shy. And what a career it has been.

Headhunted by the BBC after working at Capital Radio, Sue’s talent took her from presenting Radio 4’s You and Yours to TV’s Breakfast Time, Children in Need and Crimewatch – to name a few.

“When I was younger, girls were trained to be wives” she reminisced. “As the elder sibling, I thought it was unfair that my brothers didn’t have to do all of those chores.

“I saw my mum trapped at home with three kids while my dad worked in London. She’d ask for money if she needed anything.

“That early experience made me think to myself I don’t want to be trapped, or depend on anyone for money.”

Where it all began was Sue’s passion for words and languages, which led to an interest in being a columnist and writer.

“You get a shock when you realise you can’t just walk into your dream job” she smiled.

After exploring lots of potential roles, she took the closest she could find – sorting through filing cabinets at Reader’s Digest. From there, she became a researcher, a “boring, tedious job” from which she was eventually fired because she was never any good at it.

It wasn’t until she spotted an ad for a new commercial radio station coming to London – Capital Radio – that her luck began to chance.

In a time where commercial radio had only begun to take off in the UK, the opportunity seemed intriguing to a young Sue. She took her CV to what was then quite literally a building site and applied.

She was successful – and soon she was put on air for the first time, handling one of the first call-ins of UK radio.

“We became known as cuddly capital because our call-ins were so interactive, I guess because there were a lot of lonely people in the city,” she said.

Being a part of the first call-ins wasn’t the only ‘first’ Sue witnessed as she progressed.

As consumerism rose, new radio strands included a daily ‘price bulletin’ to keep listeners informed on the latest costs of everyday items.

Soon, Sue had become a part of this rising trend, calling London street markets at 6am to find out the latest and delivering it to those who tuned in.

“I even took on DJ’ing because I loved finding new music and was interested in pop culture,” said Sue.

“Yes, I was nervous and my first time on air was terrifying and I was shaking, but the team were all incredibly supportive.

“I fought shyness through university but soon enough you’ve got to force yourself into situations which terrify you.

“It is incredibly exciting if something’s still only at the ground level, like Capital was at the time.”

From Capital Sue was headhunted by the BBC, securing a role at Radio 4’s You and Yours.

“I was optimistic” she laughed, “I just had this idea that I liked the sound of it, so I’d go for it. And if anyone was ever on holiday, I would step in, which is always a great way to find your way in.”

After her time with Radio 4, her career turned to television. Here, Sue attributed the relaxed, on air persona to “her sense of fun”.

“When you’re on TV, the shyness steps aside because you have a role to play and you play the part.

“It helps that those around you feel confident in you – and having a clear script and direction gives you confidence too.”

She described her first time on the newly formed daytime and breakfast TV as one of the most exciting, enjoyable times of her career.

What would she say to aspiring journalists?

“I learned what it was like having a boring job and wouldn’t miss that experience for the world. I wanted to be admired for my work and have a good reputation.

“Try and find a different way in to everyone else, almost a back door, worm your way in and hold your line.”

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