Legendary broadcaster Harry Gration is a Yorkshire treasure – but he has revealed a time when his northern roots were a hindrance to his career.
The York-based star, who left the BBC after 42 years in October, said his accent once cost him a job on the Beeb’s popular sports programme, Sportsnight.
“Nobody was interested other than BBC Radio Leeds,” he said of his repeated attempts to get another job at the corporation. “Nobody cared at all about anything and I thought right I’m not going to let this go.”
When he applied for the Sportsnight job, he was told by one manager: “I don’t like my presenters dropping their H’s”. And that was that.
How does he deal with such rejection? He said: “take it as your mantra, people will ignore you.”
Harry revealed the incident as he reviewed both the highs and lows of his long career during a virtual talk with York St John University media students
He was accompanied by friend and former colleague Roy Player who directed BBC Look North, and they shared their insights into getting and developing a career in broadcasting.
Roy asked Harry if he always wanted to be a presenter. Gration said “No, definitely not,” he said. “I hoped that I would be a reporter or sport commentator. I always wanted to do that.”
Presenting with passion
Harry trained as a teacher, and taught history for about five years. At the same time he would be a sports reporter at the weekends for BBC Radio Leeds.
“As a teacher you learn to have some kind of association with people which to me is very important,” he told students.
“One thing I have always tried to do is present with a passion. Therefore when I have presented I have presented with passion, as much as possible.”
He covered rugby league, football, cricket “anything actually”.
“I realised I was actually talking to people now and not talking to myself.
“Apparently, when I was a young lad my mum and dad used to say that when I went to go and play cricket in the back garden I would always commentate on a non-match. So that is where it all started.”
From pitchside to the Pope
Working for BBC Radio Leeds on the weekends was a new experience for him because he had the chance to be mentored by John Helm – who went on to be a national football commentator.
“He nurtured me he brought me on and he gave me matches. We started doing rugby league, then football commentary and I ended up doing Leeds united every week.”
This lead to him received a three-month contract which he gave up his teaching job to do and he describes this decision as “from that moment on it all happened”.
He was Radio Leeds’ sports editor between 1978 and 1982. Harry’s work impressed the editor of Look North, who gave him a job on the programme.
His career saw him report on major news stories – he covered Pope John Paul’s visit to York Knavesmire in 1982: “I did a story about the Pope not far from where my house is here.”
At the same time, he would report for the BBC’s Olympic and Commonwealth Games coverage.
Harry’s top TV tips
A piece to camera is an important part of a package which can briefly tell the viewers about what the story is about. Here are Harry Gration’s top tips for presenting a piece to camera.
Choose your location carefully. Is it visually stimulating? What is going on around you? Most importantly “if you see something going on behind you refer to it”.
Shorter the better
Harry believes that a piece to camera should be concise. “Some of the best are ten seconds long.” When you are writing your piece to camera use short sentence and not long ones. Overall “keep it brief and to the point” to grab your readers attention.
Learn your words
When you are out reporting it is important that you pick your words carefully in a way that “means something to you”.
When presenting a piece you need to make sure you deliver it “with passion if that is the situation that is demanded or reverence if that’s what’s needed.”
The students who attended the talk were impressed.
Megan Eccles said she enjoyed it because she felt that “Harry and Roy were down to earth and gave useful information for the future that I will take on board.”
Another student, Olivia Lawlor-Mcdonald said: “He also added how he learnt from his mistakes and how he got opportunities in the industry.”
While Natasha Judge said that “I really enjoyed the anecdotes of his time as a presenter and I learnt a lot about how to present yourself when carrying our pieces to camera and voiceover.”
Correction: The original version of this story said it was Grandstand that had rejected Harry because of his accent. In fact it was Sportsnight. We apologise for the error, which we corrected as soon as it came to light