In the days when I used to work for a living, interviewing youngsters keen to embrace journalism as a career was part of the job.
It became a rather tedious exercise for all concerned because it usually descended into a stilted fandango of role-playing, in which they attempted to convey boundless enthusiasm and I countered with my cynical editor routine.
Trite questions were faithfully recycled, but there are only so many different ways of explaining why journalism is your idea of a blissful existence.
Then one day a colleague from another newspaper came up with the ideal solution.
“I never interview would-be trainees,” he said. “I get them to interview me.”
It was an inspired concept, because it tested an interviewee’s nerve, initiative and ability to perform under pressure – all qualities essential to anyone hoping to enter the Fourth Estate.
I adopted that approach from then on and everyone seemed invigorated by the process because it was not only different, it also had an obvious purpose.
However, no matter how gruelling and predictable these encounters had become previously, I would never have resorted to the technique which has apparently become fashionable and is referred to as ‘extreme interviewing.’
This involves peppering candidates with bizarre questions and then employing pseudo-psychology to interpret the answers.
It is the most frightful drivel which is intended to make interviewers look smart and trendy. It actually ends up making them appear cocky and pretentious.
Apparently, one of the favourite questions from this form of interrogation is: ‘If you were a dinosaur, what would you be?’
The obvious reply is ‘extinct,’ though there should be bonus marks on offer for ‘slightly wary of asteroids.’
Here are my suggested replies to some of the other daft questions.
Q: ‘Name five uses for a stapler which has no staples.’
A: ‘It can be sung to, prayed with, sworn at, sniffed at – then thrown in the waste-paper bin.’
Q: ‘With a four-minute hour-glass and a seven-minute hour-glass, how can you measure exactly nine minutes without taking longer than nine minutes?’
A: ‘By looking at my watch.’
Q: ‘Are you exhaling warm air?’
A: ‘Yes. But it’s not as hot as the stuff I’m listening to.’
Q: ‘Does life fascinate you?’
A: ‘Yours certainly does.’
** How do you solve a problem like David?
David Starkey is outspoken, often outrageous and frequently contemptuous of any views which do not accord with his own.
As far as television producers are concerned, this attitude would be completely acceptable if the good doctor was of a left-wing persuasion.
Unfortunately for them, his views are formed far out on the right and often come swooping in with devastating effect because Starkey is both formidably intelligent and intimidatingly articulate.
This presents the TV folk with a dilemma, because though his presence makes any programme compulsive viewing, they lose credibility with their right-on peers.
David Dimbleby’s expression on a recent edition of Question Time reflected the dilemma perfectly.
It was an agonised blend of professional admiration and political loathing.