Today I had the amazing experience on speaking to BBC Radio2 Newscaster Fenella Fudge; no I did not ask her about her name! There is not much I can say to describe this hilarious woman; you will just have to read on to find out for yourselves.
Hi Fenella, please tell us a little about yourself
Well, when I was about five, people used to ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up … and I used to reply “a giraffe”. I had no idea you had to stay human. It’s a goal I’ve never fulfilled, but it showed an early tendency to think somewhat ‘outside the box’.
I joined the BBC straight from college (I did the International Baccalaureate rather than A Levels) as my father wasn’t keen on me going to university and falling under ‘bad influences’! The beeb (BBC) took me on as a trainee secretary, teaching me to type and do shorthand.
Were you happy being a secretary or did you desire bigger things? Do you still have the tendency to think ‘outside the box’? If so, how has this been obvious?
I always thought I wanted to act, but my father said it was a very uncertain profession and I should get some kind of grounding in a skill which would earn me money during the long times I’d be unemployed. The trouble is, once you’re in the rat race earning money there’s no great temptation to leave. I was a truly abysmal secretary … great on the phone, but monumentally shit at any other kind of administration … mostly because I have the attention of a … “Oh, look … something sparkly!”
I worked my way through various production departments in television, generally being a spanner in the works, until suddenly Radio 4 advertised for a ‘Trainee Continuity Announcer’ … and whilst I failed the first year I applied, the following year they took me on. It’s a very disciplined job … and my, um, tendency to indiscipl … er, ‘thinking outside the box’, meant they wouldn’t give me a staff job. But I left Auntie and went freelance, and Radio 4 used me as an Announcer anyway, for the next 8 years … during which time I also freelanced for Anglia Television and did commercial voiceovers. I have been the voice of British Airways passenger instruction videos and Anne Summers – a varied voiceover career.
British Airways to Anne Summers?! Yes varied, which was more fun? Do you regret not going into acting? Your oh…sparkly would go well on the screen
I have to say almost any kind of voice work is fun! I always say it’s the most fun you can have with your clothes on. It doesn’t matter what age you are, what you look like … all that matters is that your voice creates the right ‘thing’ in the listeners’ heads. I mean, take the Cadbury’s Caramel Bunny … do you know who that is? Picture if you will, the sensuous, sexy, girly bunny with that sultry voice … do you know who plays her?
No idea. I want to know now so please tell me that you have the answer! My guess is you!
It’s Miriam Margolyes! ‘Nursey’ from Blackadder … go to Google Images or YouTube … she’s nothing like you’d imagine from her voice. Mind you, nor am I. I’ve lost count of the number of times people are surprised to find I’m white … then again, it’s worse than that, I’m ginger!
I remember what she looks like, yes a different picture than the voice leads us to believe.
That’s the wonder of the voice. You create pictures in someone’s head, but in much the same way as you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, you’d be a fool to judge a person by their voice.
I have to ask……I read that you sell African crafts and circus paraphernalia. How did that come about?
When I was working in Norwich for Anglia Television, I met a South African and we set up a business together. Apartheid was just being dismantled, and we really wanted to help tribes people get their handicrafts to a wider market as trade sanctions were lifted. We travelled throughout South Africa and into Botswana, Swaziland and the Transkei collecting amazing craftwork. But the business didn’t do brilliantly … I was doing some evening classes at the time – astronomy, circus skills and metalwork (not combined, although the astronomy teacher also taught the circus skills, I was the only crossover student) – and it turned out it was very hard to buy juggling stuff and other gear (like unicycles, throwing knives and diabolos) in Norwich … so I started sourcing the stuff, and became the biggest retailer of circus kit in East Anglia for a short while.
Wow! Impressive! Firstly, what was it like travelling through South Africa? Was it emotional or difficult in any way? Secondly, how good are you at throwing knives whilst riding a unicycle?
It was totally amazing. South Africa is the most hospitable country on Earth. The welcome we had wherever we went was incredible. I suppose it was easier for me being with a South African, but at no point did I feel unsafe – even in Johannesburg, where life is cheap and they won’t threaten you with a gun and then take your car, they’ll just shoot you and take it … but, more through luck than judgement, we simply didn’t experience any problems. I wouldn’t go into notoriously dangerous areas late at night, simple as. In very rural areas people are so ecstatic to see someone with money to spend, they couldn’t be more welcoming. I’d been to South Africa when I was 11 and apartheid was very much alive, I remember being chilled to the bone at seeing the “whites only” signs – I couldn’t understand them, I simply hadn’t experienced any kind of racism in my life – my two best friends at school were Japanese and Nigerian, I just didn’t see colour. It sounds terribly naive and idealistic, but that’s the way it was. I didn’t experience racism until it happened shockingly to my best friend at college, a black Chilean, was waiting near a tube station for me to turn up so we could drive down to Brighton for the day in his car. When I arrived he was surrounded by police who were absolutely convinced he was waiting to do over a nearby Post Office. It was totally unbelievable, and completely changed my view of the police from that day on. Returning to South Africa in the 90s and finding it so much more integrated, albeit still with massive political and social problems, was very heartening. I still think inter-tribal problems may be its downfall rather than the lingering inequalities from apartheid era.
My circus skills are pitiful … which is why I REALLY appreciate those who have them. I can juggle three items adequately, four badly … and three clubs so badly, I gave myself a black eye – it was embarrassing serving in the shop with that, I can tell you. I can’t ride a unicycle, but I am expert at falling off one. I can throw knives, but then … who can’t? At a target though? Nah.
Your poor friend! What a horrid experience to have to deal with. I believe that most children do not see skin colour, not unless it is drummed into them at a young age.
Couldn’t agree more – racism comes the environment, not within the child.
I know that you have studied with The Open University (OU) what can you tell me about it?
I joined the OU in 2001 … I chugged my way through a Psychology BSc, with a bit of philosophy thrown in as my free subject. When I graduated, I went on to do a Post Graduate Certificate in Humanities … I wanted to do the full MA, but finances wouldn’t permit!
Has the Psychology degree helped you at all?
I think my degree overall has helped me in two ways. The philosophy course was brilliant at teaching critical thinking … helping you think in a clear, uncluttered way, teaching you to recognise poor or spurious arguments … I like to think I’ve become a more fearsome opponent in any discussion, rather than the wittering, twittering idiot of old. The psychology has made me even more tolerant of human fallibility … we have so many inbuilt design faults, it’s a wonder we’re as advanced as we are. The brain’s evolution hasn’t progressed significantly in the last 100,000 years; so, at best, we’re operating with 100,000 year old Stone Age software in a highly technological world … it’s a big ask! I’m a very easygoing, live-and-let-live kind of person anyway, but psychology’s made me more so … our memories are incredible, but rarely totally accurate, our senses have massive flaws and our bodies can be tricked by any number of influences … we’re just massively unreliable, so we should all be more forgiving of human cock-ups! If you read only one popular book on psychology, make it “Mistakes Were Made … But Not By Me” … it’ll change your life!
I like the title! I never came across that one during my psychology studies. So studying has made you more confident? Has the radio world not done that beforehand? I cannot imagine you less confident.
I am a very, very unconfident person. You can’t imagine how unconfident. I have three skills in which I have confidence: I can spell, I am a mean car parker and I can bark like a dog. That’s it! Those are the only things I can absolutely hold my hands up and say I can do. Everything else I just sort of get away with. Radio is for slightly weird people who can mostly cope away from the public gaze. I am completely anonymous physically, which I love, I have no interest in fame whatsoever. What fame I have is an accidental by-product of what I accidentally fell into doing. The BBC doesn’t particularly ‘cherish’ what I and my colleagues do – and why should it? After all, we just read out loud. We are not journalists, we are just newsreaders – so the job is gradually being handed over to people who can write and read, not just read like we do. But as for the confidence thing, don’t for one second think that sitting in a dark room by myself reading out loud means I’m in any way confiden … the fear of not being able to pay my bills otherwise simply keeps me vaguely competent. I’m completely unqualified to do anything else. Although I did train as a Life Coach before I started the psychology degree … I just don’t have the confidence to advertise my services!
Do you intend to complete your Humanities MA at some point when finances permit?
Sadly, I don’t think my finances will ever permit me to finish the Humanities MA – the fees have risen so much at the OU, and my job at the beeb is not long for this world. Studying has definitely made me a bit more confident though, I am more capable of standing my ground, rather than automatically assuming everyone else must be right because I’m a blithering fool.
I had to give up my MA for the same reason! The OU prices are ridiculous now!
Is there any difference for you between Radio 2 and 4? Or are they both pretty much the same?
Radio 2 is much lighter and frothier than Radio 4 – it’s a music station, while Radio 4 is a speech station, punctuated with strong current affairs. Radio 2 no longer has continuity announcements (those bits between programmes which link them) so Radio 2 Announcers just read the news, whereas Radio 4 still has Continuity Announcers linking the programmes – I miss that part of the job.
Any plans to move back to Radio 4?
(Oh, and, I’m not sure Radio 4 would have me back no matter what plans I might hatch.)
Is there anything else you wish to divulge that has not already been mentioned?
Well, because my lack of confidence is the biggest stumbling block in my life, I decided this year that I really needed to do something about it. I plumped for the hardest thing I could think of involving confidence. So, I tried my hand at stand-up comedy. I have never been so abjectly terrified in my life. I’m not particularly good at it, but was quite chuffed to be told I “didn’t totally suck”. That’ll do for me. And, hey, I did it. I’m not sure I’ll be able to do it again though. Has it helped with the confidence? Not really, I’m still plagued by a sense of overwhelming inadequacy, but at least it’s now punctuated by the knowledge that if I really, really want to, I can stumble out of my comfort zone.
Well done! That was obviously a huge and difficult step to take. Why do you think your confidence is so low after you have proved time and time again that you can overcome your insecurities? I mean, travelling Africa, taking evening classes, studying with the OU and being a broadcaster are not easy steps to take!
Aren’t they? I didn’t go to Africa alone, I wasn’t running the evening class – I just had to sit on a chair the right way round, the OU is a genius organisation which copes with the numptiest of the numpty with unwavering patience, and I wouldn’t go so far as to call myself a broadcaster … I’ve merely been getting away for a ridiculously long time with reading out loud what someone else with a brain has written … if a monkey could read, a monkey could do it.
Ahem Mrs Psychology degree!! Do not diminish yourself, you have achieved some awesome feats, and I am sorry but even a monkey or the ‘numptiest of numpties’ could not cope with Rancid and Dreary…ummm….. I mean Dancey and Reidy!! (Statistics without Maths) Which I am sure you studied too!!!
Yes, I did survive Rancid and Dreary, you’re right. I’m not diminishing myself, I am utterly brilliant at parking – I can fit in a space the size of my car (the blue one) as seen here. This was my best bit of parking EVER! Except I’m so stupid I can’t get the photo to load
Before I go, is there anything else you want to mention, and yes that can include unicorns pooping sparkles if you so desire!
Er … I dunno … I’d like to thank the OU for the incredible work it does, the brilliant material it provides and the wonderful friends I’ve made, some of whom have made truly heroic efforts to complete their studies. I salute them all!
I cannot agree more, they stuck by me for 9 years whilst I completed my degree
Yep, me too. But WE DID IT, eh?
We did indeed! I could chat all night but have been made aware of how much of your time I have taken up!
Look, I only work 3 minutes an hour, take as much as you like!
Well if there is more you want to talk about feel free. You could always divulge what you do for the 57 minutes per hour?!
How d’you think I got my degree?
Well, just what could I say to that?
Thank you so much Fenella. That was such an interesting yet fun interview to conduct.
Once again, thank you all for reading and please leave any comments you deem suitable.