British newspapers, TV and radio programmes are full of stories about the recent deaths of two famous broadcasters called David.
The first, David Frost, had international renown for his interviews with ex-President Nixon in 1977. The second, David Jacobs, is less well known internationally, but in the UK he had a very long career that covered many of the iconic, popular TV programmes of the last 50 years. At various times, he presented Juke Box Jury, Top of the Pops, the Eurovision Song Contest, Miss World, and Come Dancing.
On the radio he presented many music programmes and also, for about 15 years, the political panel programme, Any Questions? The programme is still running in 2013 under the chairmanship of Jonathan Dimbleby.
IP Draughts once asked a question on Any Questions?, during Jacobs’ chairmanship of the show. The programme was being broadcast, in about 1981, from Durham University, where IP Draughts was an undergraduate. The audience were required to be in their seats 90 minutes before the show was broadcast live. As we trooped in, we were invited to write down questions on cards. IP Draughts wrote down 5 questions and one was selected. He was one of about 6 students whose questions were selected.
Before the show started, there was a warm-up session, in which the producer told some stories and jokes and interacted with the audience. At one point, IP Draughts heard himself shouting out “heard it” as the producer began to tell an elaborate joke. Inevitably, perhaps, the producer challenged IP Draughts to come to the front and tell the joke himself.
The joke, or allegedly true story, is about the student who was asked how to measure the height of a building using a barometer. It has its own Wikipedia page here. IP Draughts had read it in a book of stories that he had received as a Christmas present the year before, and could just about remember the various alternative methods of measuring the building’s height.
When, an hour or so after telling the story, IP Draughts was invited to ask a question on the programme, the audience reaction was perhaps a little stronger than it might otherwise have been. His question was whether a system of student loans should be introduced. In 1981, when the programme was broadcast, this was merely a controversial proposal in the UK, and it was not implemented until 1990.
The volume of noise from some members of the audience shouting “no!” in response to IP Draughts’ question appeared to startle David Jacobs, who repeated the question with a comment: “[IP Draughts], who clearly hasn’t brought his fan club with him this evening, asks…” For some people, and at that time, it seemed that it was an unforgivable heresy even to ask the question.
This is the only occasion on which IP Draughts has spoken on live national radio or TV, and it will probably be the last!
IP Draughts was reminded of this incident today, when he heard the re-broadasting of another incident from Any Questions? during Jacobs’ reign. In one episode, it seems that the live proceedings were held up for 10 minutes by protestors who shouted complaints about the presence of Enoch Powell, a right wing politician, on the show. Ah, the heady days of protest during the early days of Mrs Thatcher!
After the programme, panelists and questioners were invited for drinks with the producer. While he waited for the taxi that would take him to the railway station for his train back to London, David Jacobs was very friendly and courteous to the assembled students.
He left behind him a memory of someone with great facility and charm, and considerable competence at handling a live audience.
RIP David Jacobs.