Treasure Quest and my career at the BBC very much go hand-in-hand. I was still ten days away from becoming a full-time employee of the organisation when the show’s pilot was broadcast on Good Friday in 2008. I knew I was going to be joining full-time, and had done since early in the month when I’d been offered the job, but at that point I was still in the dying days of working for the county council for a living, while going in to the BBC when I could at weekends and to cover other shifts, and as an action desk volunteer.
I didn’t work on the Treasure Quest pilot, but I was there on that day. I don’t remember exactly when I first heard of us doing the idea, but I do remember how I heard of it. I have a very clear memory of checking the Radio Norfolk rotas – it must have been sometime earlier that month – and seeing the name of the programme, and that it was Becky and David doing it, on there for Good Friday. It’s some demonstration of the strength of it I suppose that I remember even just seeing the name there knowing pretty much what the format would be, and I did think it sounded interesting.
On that first Good Friday show, I was working on two of the programmes later in the day, a Bank Holiday special with local concert promoter Chris Bailey and the drive time programme with Jack Dearlove. At the time I arrived, sometime between 1 and 2pm, Treasure Quest ought to have finished and they were due to be running a national documentary about ‘quiet gardens’, but they’d overrun and decided to drop the pre-recorded programme. One of the things you can do when you’re both presenter and editor, as David was, I suppose!
|The BBC Radio Norfolk Good Friday schedule in 2008, from that week's internal station email newslettter|
The first Treasure Quest I worked on was the second one-off we did, on the early May Bank Holiday. I didn’t set it up – that was done by Nanette Aldous – but I did studio produce it on the day. That episode is now one of only two which is lost to history. I’m the only person on the show’s regular team whose first episode doesn’t exist, which is a bit of a shame but there we go!
I don’t know when I found out, and my diary from the time does not record, exactly when I discovered that Treasure Quest would be running as a regular show on Sunday mornings in place of The Norfolk Years. I do remember being disappointed about it, however. I’d been working on The Norfolk Years since November, and after only a few weeks David had handed over to me the job of doing all the research for it – finding quirky stories in old editions of the Evening News and sorting out the chart music for the weeks in history we were looking at.
The Norfolk Years was the first show I ever really felt I was properly ‘producing’, not just answering the phones, making the tea and seeing any guests up and down to and from the studio. I remember feeling annoyed that I’d be losing all of that. How little I knew of what was coming!
It was never really intended, I think, that I would end up fully producing Treasure Quest. As I was working on the slot anyway I’d be the studio producer, but our assistant editor Martyn Weston – the man who’d bought the show to the station – had very much given the impression we’d do the set-up together, and he’d assured me that “I don’t expect you to write the clues.” He had a chap called Mike Boswell in mind to do that, but that never happened.
Pretty much from the get-go, I ended up doing it all – setting up the shows, writing the clues and producing the whole thing. We started the regular run at the end of May for what was meant to be a 12-week run over the summer and then The Norfolk Years would return in the autumn. But ten years on and 500-plus episodes later, we’re still going.
|An excerpt from the internal email newsletter from the week Treasure Quest became a regular part of the BBC Radio Norfolk schedule, at the end of May 2008|
It’s also a show that has, in its own tiny way, allowed me to experience and be a part of so many of those things that have always fascinated me about broadcasting history. It’s a show that people actually notice and pay attention to, you never feel you’re broadcasting to nobody for no reason, there’s always a reaction. We’ve had spin-offs and merchandise and articles and reviews written about us… Little bits and pieces, few and far between, but a taste of being a ‘proper’ programme. It’s been a hugely important pillar of both my professional and personal lives, and I have been very fortunate indeed to have been involved in it.
But what have I personally brought to it? How is it in any way different to how it might be if somebody else were producing it?
In many ways, it isn’t. The format is so strong that I think it’s pretty much ‘producer proof’, if the producer has any nous to them at all. I didn’t invent the show. I didn’t bring it to BBC Radio Norfolk. I didn’t put myself forward to work on it, I simply inherited the job because I was the person already working on the slot. With one notable exception I’ve never really had any say over the ‘casting’ of the regulars. So what have I done?
If I’ve had any influence at all on the show, I like to think it’s in giving it a sense of itself and its history. In the 10th anniversary documentary going out on Good Friday, many of those involved talk about the sense of family there is about the programme, both listeners and those who work on it, and I like to think I have contributed to that. Making the phone answerers part of the whole thing rather than anonymous and behind-the-scenes. Making a fuss of people when they leave. Making sure we mark anniversaries and special events.
|Some of the Treasure Quest merchandise from down the years!|
As a good Doctor Who fan I have been brought up on production history and anniversaries and episode counts. So of course if I had a sniff of actually being involved in something myself where I could chart that history, I was going to grab it. But it’s something more comparable shows like Blue Peter and even something like Pointless have done down the years, too – giving a sense of their own history, celebrating it when appropriate without being hung-up on it. You can dip into these things casually or enjoy them as one-off episodes, but they also offer that warmth of knowing and demonstrating that they’re not simply isolated chunks, they are part of something bigger and they don’t ignore that past.
Whether that’s made any difference to Treasure Quest I can’t say. But I like to think it all helps to make it a warmer and even a bigger-feeling show. Who knows, though – I have no doubt that if I weren’t here, if I had never come to Norfolk and never ended up working for the BBC, someone else would be doing the job and may well be doing it better.
I don’t know when Treasure Quest will one day come to an end, or when I will stop working on it. It’s useless for me to make predictions as I was expecting its demise years ago! It’s one of the reasons why I’ve made the documentaries and the book and so forth… So there are reminders, little traces of its existence, what we did and the impact that we had.
I remember once reading a piece by Russell T Davies, the man who brought Doctor Who back, where he wrote about he and the first producer of the revived version, Phil Collinson, knowing how much they were enjoying working on the show and despairing of how they might one day have to go back to making ‘normal’ dramas about ‘two people talking in a kitchen.’ It’s something I think about, sometimes – one day this will all be over and there will only be ‘normal’ radio left to produce, or of course no such good fortune to have such an interesting job at all. So I do my best enjoy it while it’s here, and try to make the most of it, which I think on the whole I have done.
It can have its frustrations. I can try to be too much of a perfectionist with it at times, and I can get incredibly stressed and annoyed if a moment I have worked hard on doesn’t go as planned. In many ways, it’s a ludicrously ill-matched format to my temperament – I like to try and work and work at things to get them right, like the documentaries, and this is all the chaos and unpredictability of live broadcasting instead. I like to go away and work on things on my own, whereas this is all about the team.
But yes, this has been a positive thing. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Treasure Quest has made me a better person, but it’s certainly made me a better producer. So thank you, to anyone who may be reading this who has worked on the show down the years, or contributed to it, or simply listened to it. I know I will always look back on these Sunday mornings incredibly fondly, and I hope there are a fair few of them to go yet.
|The Treasure Quest team at the end of our annual Children in Need stage show at the Norwich Playhouse last year|