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A prelude to my memoir: Behind the scenes at Berkeley Squares

This is my final article as Political Editor here at Berkeley Squares. It is only when I look back on the last year that I realise the strides we have made as a paper. I sat down at the first Berkeley Squares meeting surrounded by eccentrics galore and wondered what I had signed myself up to; however, I am so glad I stayed. I spent my first year writing “popular culture” and human interest articles which I look back on with distaste. Nevertheless, once promoted to Political Editor this soon changed. I am not exaggerating when I say that Berkeley Squares truly has been one of the most rewarding, insightful and enjoyable parts of my life thus far; meeting so many interesting politicians and individuals from such diverse backgrounds and with such divergent political views.

In the beginning…

I proclaimed at our very first meeting: “I think video and interactive media is the way forward,” and was subsequently voted down. Yet, this year I defied the popular opinion of our editorial panel and started the “Berkeley Squares Bite” series. My debut interview speaking with Thangham Debonnaire, MP for Bristol West, was a great experience and made me more determined to get future interviews even if my hair was far from “on point”. After months of ringing, emailing, writing and pestering we finally got an interview with the Bristol Mayor, Marvin Rees, which has seen thousands of views across the internet. Following Marvin I interviewed psychologist Dr Olivia Maynard about her influence on the adoption of standardised cigarette packaging in the UK.

Metro Mayor madness

After this interview A-levels were fast approaching and I thought, as Adele would put it, “this is the end” after a three-episode series. How wrong I was! Metro Mayor? What’s one of those? Well, nobody really knew! Hence the reason I set out, as if a knight in a fairy tale, on a mission to inform the marvellous people of Bristol and the West what one actually was, and why it was important to vote in the election. I started by saying “I want the two ahead in the polls,” then “wouldn’t it be nice to have four,” then finally “we need all six for the best result.” After hours and hours and hours, I eventually lined up interviews with all 6 candidates (some being easier to fix down than others!) and the Watershed very kindly lent us their conference room facilities free of charge. All of our filming was based at the iconic Bristol Harbourside, and apart from some deviously minded seagulls and a trip to Tony Benn House we’d finished. The Metro Mayor videos have been viewed more than fifteen thousand times collectively, suggesting we did indeed help some make an informed decision.

West of England Metro Mayor candidates

Tim Farron, leader of the Liberal Democrats

The story behind the Tim Farron and the TV…

However, our biggest “scoop” was achieved not through forward planning but rather luck and generosity. It was the day that Theresa May announced the snap election and Chris Hyland (Berkeley Squares Bite video producer) and I had just finished a long day of filming our Supplementary Vote explainer video when we were approached by a homeless man who asked us what we were filming. “Some interviews with the Metro Mayor candidates”, we replied. “Oh right, is that what all the other news crews over there are doing? Have you seen them?” We hadn’t, and after thanking him profusely we dashed off to investigate.

We glimpsed what looked like lighting equipment and a TV broadcasting van in the distance, and then: “It’s Tim Farron, leader of the Liberal Democrats,” I exclaimed! He was preparing for an interview with Channel 4 News, and to me asking whether he would speak to Berkeley Squares afterwards he said he would be delighted. We then had about twenty minutes for Chris to set up and for me to devise questions to field Tim in the 5 minutes before he was whisked away in a taxi to Temple Meads!

Thirty seconds after the Channel 4 interview, which ended up making national news when Cathy Newman cornered him with “a while back I asked you whether it was true that you believed homosexuality was a sin…”, Tim had nimbly vaulted a barrier to reach us and we began shooting. The video currently remains in the top two spots when I search Google Videos for ‘Tim Farron snap election” and it has been viewed by well over 7,000 people — crowning it the most popular of all the Bites in terms of views, likes and comments.

A couple of days later I met the Green candidate for Metro Mayor, Darren Hall. He told me that the Green Party were launching their national campaign in the Bristol Hotel later that day and that he could try to get us in – we snapped at the chance! We had been scheduled to see Lesley Mansell, the Labour Metro Mayor candidate, but she had cancelled just minutes earlier – what good luck! We headed up to the Green launch where I met with co-leaders Caroline Lucas and Jonathan Bartley. The event was mostly to endorse Molly Scott Cato who was their candidate in Bristol West: their main target seat in 2017 (she went on to be crushed, with Thangam increasing her majority to 37,336). The image above is a screenshot from our interview with Jonathan Bartley, which appeared on the Green Party’s national election leaflet.

I must take this opportunity to thank Chris Hyland for all of his hard work and dedication editing the Berkeley Squares Bites, which has spiralled to a total of twelve episodes. Chris is the most loyal and remarkable individual I have ever met and I’m sure that Berkeley Squares will continue to prosper next year under his direction. I know that his editing of “hello, I’m the Business and Political Editor here at Berkeley Squares” has driven him up the wall, but his fastidious approach has made the videos look outstanding. Thank you for your help and support.

Whilst I am in a positive mood, I’d like to take the opportunity to thank everyone at Berkeley Squares who has made the experience a great one (all except “Guest Contributor”, otherwise known as Mr Davies, who has made life rather difficult). I leave Berkeley Squares as a thriving political hub, with our Berkeley Squares Bites reaching tens of thousands of people. I am especially proud of our Metro Mayor coverage which I think was the most detailed of any news organisations in the West, and the team who helped were brilliant.

It is also the time to take the opportunity to welcome my replacements, note the plural, as both Matthew Munday and Edward Píška will take the helm of politics as Joint Political Editors (a very Green and progressive way of working). I wish them the best of luck in the rapidly evolving political climate and I look forward to reading cross-party, unbiased and factual journalism when I check my weekly emails from Berkeley Squares.

Thank you to all those that have read, enjoyed and given me feedback on my articles. It has been great fun and I’ve enjoyed the journey every step of the way.

James Patrick Wearmouth

Business and Political Editor 2016-2017