Cycling was the reason writer and broadcaster, Trevor Ward moved to Auchmithie, in the north east of Scotland.
“I’ve always dreamed of having miles and miles of quiet country roads on my doorstep,” says the writer and broadcaster about his home, a former fishing village near Arbroath.
“When I lived in London or Manchester, you’d have to drive or get the train with your bike before you could start cycling on quiet roads, but here I get on my bike outside my front door and have seen barely any other traffic other than the odd tractor by the time I get back 30 or 40 miles later.”
Trevor is now somewhere over the Alps, preparing for the grueling final stage of the Tour de France bike race, Etape du Tour. By Monday 11th July, he hopes he will be smoking a Cuban cigar and drinking a bottle of Gigondas, having “cycled 109 km over three big brutes of mountains – the Telegraphe, Galibier and Alpe d’Huez. Altogether, I will have climbed more than 3,000 metres in temperatures nudging 30 degrees.”
His aim in taking on this challenge is to raise money for Macmillan Cancer Support. He also hopes the experience will give him material to write a book:
“As a means of motivation, I’m trying to turn it into a book, the story of a middle-aged, marginalised, unemployed victim of the recession trying to give his life some meaning by cycling a stage of the Tour de France.”
Why Trevor is unemployed and marginalised says much about how the industry he has worked in has changed, since he began as a presenter in the 1980’s with Network 7.
Network 7 was a love it or loathe it series from the 1980s, which revolutionised television. Launched in 1987, it aired on Sundays between 12 and 2pm, running for two series until 1988. There had been nothing like it then, but there have been plenty of copies since.
Devised by Janet Street-Porter and Jane Hewland, Network 7 gave a voice to British teenagers and twenty-somethings, sowed the seed of Reality TV, and put “yoof culture” at the heart of the TV schedules.
Strange to think now, but back then there was no youth TV, outside of the music shows Top of the Pops and The Tube.
Set in a ramshackle warehouse in London’s Limehouse, Network 7 changed all this by taking its audience seriously and offering feature items, news stories, music and interviews on issues that were topical, relevant and often ground-breaking: from exposes on bank card fraud, to Third World debt, AIDs, bulimia, bullying and gangs. Network 7 was also radical in that it was presented by “yoof”, and made stars of Sebastian Scott, Magenta Devine, Sankha Guha, Jaswinder Bancil and Trevor Ward.
They were all good, but Ward had an edge as was a maverick, who brought a steely journalistic edge to what was, in effect, a magazine show presented by bright young things.
“I was working for Mercury Press agency in Liverpool in 1987 under the brilliant and inspirational Roger Blyth when I was 26. Network 7 was a brand new Sunday morning show, like a thinking-man’s Tiswas. About halfway through their first series, they said they were looking for a reporter.
“The following week, they repeated their appeal, but this time they said the applicants had to be Northern. So I sent in my CV and was invited down to an interview on the set – a load of reconditioned caravans in the middle of a big warehouse in East London. Janet Street Porter and Jane Hewland gave me a merciless grilling and I drove home convinced I hadn’t got the job.
“The next day, a researcher rang me and said I was on the final short list of three, and that we would be expected to come down to London the next Sunday to do a live audition on that day’s show. The viewers would vote in a live telephone poll for who got the job.
“I thought it was a brilliant idea, even though there was a one in three chance it could end in nationally-televised humiliation for me.
“That week’s show was coming live from a Rock against Racism festival in Finsbury Park, and we each had to find a story during the programme’s two-hour running time to present to camera in under a couple of minutes about half an hour before the end.
“I thought it was pretty obvious that it would have to be a PTC rather than an interview if we were to successfully sell ourselves to the viewers in such a short timespan, so I harvested a load of juicy anecdotes from a bunch of bouncers and turned those into a script which ended with about six of them carrying me off camera. I was unaware of what the other two were up to, and later found out they’d chosen to interview people from worthy causes represented at the festival.
“Anyway, I got almost half the votes, so was declared the winner at the end of the show.”
Ward’s first live story on the programme was about the Death Penalty.
“Network 7 was brilliant for pioneering viewer interaction, and viewers were regularly asked to vote on a range of issues. That week it was the death penalty and whether a particular Death Row inmate –whom we had a live satellite link with – should die. I was handed the London, studio-end of things. It was incredibly nerve-racking. My first piece-to-camera – at the top of the two-hour programme – was a two—and-a-half-minute walking/talking shot – an eternity in TV time – referring to various modes of capital punishment – all without autocue.”
Ward was soon a star, part of the Network 7 gang who turned up Café de Paris and Groucho’s, but while it made him “feel famous”, he was well aware that it “didn’t mean the public necessarily liked you or thought you were any good at your job.”
Janet Street-Porter went onto to win a BAFTA for Network 7 and was then appointed head of “yoof” TV at the BBC, where she appointed ward as one of the main faces on her new series Reportage – the BBC’s version of Network 7.
“I got all the big gigs – hosting a live studio discussion between British and Russian teenagers from Moscow (this was 1988, time of Glasnost and Perestroika) and being sent to do stuff in Australia. She’d also given Sankha Guha and Magenta de Vine their big breaks on Rough Guides.
“At the end of the first series of Reportage, she offered me a job as the third presenter on Rough Guides, the idea being that I, as a gobby Scouser, would put the “rough” into the programme alongside the smoothness of Sankha and Mags.
“I thought about it and was quite excited, but in the end didn’t really fancy flying several times around the world economy class (that’s how they did it, with free or cheap flights blagged from airlines), so declined.”
Instead Trevor took a succession of freelance presenting jobs for the likes of Thames TV and TVS. By 1990 he decided television was:
“…the most over-rated medium going – a view I still hold – and decided to do VS0. In September 1991 I flew out to Guyana for a stint with a quasi-governmental agency giving out grants to worthy causes.”
It looked like the glittering career was over, but Ward’s life was about to shift back to journalism.
“In late 1992 or early 1993 I got a call out the blue from a complete stranger who claimed he was putting together a new type of men’s magazine. This was James Brown. A mutual friend had mentioned to him a saloon bar story of mine involving me travelling around Mexico alone, a one-night stand and a man-eating shark. James wanted a different type of travel writing in his mag, more Hunter S Thompson than Judith Chalmers, and I duly obliged with my story for his first issue.
“Thus was forged the start of a great relationship. I was living back up in Liverpool at the time, so just worked for Loaded on a freelance basis. I managed to persuade James to send me to all the places I’d wanted to go – including a return visit to Mexico where I became one of the first foreign journos to meet the Zapatista rebels. After a two-day solo hike through the jungle I got photos of a load of heavily armed, masked guerrillas reading copies of Loaded with Elle MacPherson on the cover, and a shark-diving trip off San Diego.”
Loaded was the “original lads’ mag”, with the tag line, “For men who should know better”. Under Brown’s editorship the magazine was a kick in the balls to the publishing industry in 1990s, reaching a circulation peak of 457,318 in 1998, and inspiring a host of lesser imitations.
But the lads’ mag wasn’t enough for Trevor, who was soon employed as a presenter and producer for Granada TV.
“I had much fun producing and presenting for Granada Tonight, the local nightly news programme for the North West of England under the auspices of the brilliant Head of Regionals Susan Woodward.
“Amongst other things, I devised, co-produced and presented a weekly, live half-hour studio based entertainment show called Something For The Weekend (which predated the C4 Denise Van Outen show of the same name by several years) which was great fun (of course it was, it was live). It included a weekly, three-minute soap opera called The Kiosk based around the mundane transactions at a tobacconists across the road from the Granada offices.
“I also turned around a half hour documentary about the economic and cultural rivalry between Manchester and Liverpool to coincide with the 1996 Liverpool v Man Utd FA Cup Final. From inception to broadcast was less than a week. I produced, directed and presented, including an overnight edit on the night of the Cup Final to get it broadcast the following afternoon. I was due to co—present with the legendary Tony Wilson, but he had to pull out at the last minute and I had to make do with some muppet from a local radio station. When the show was broadcast, I was at home trying to stay awake when my phone rang. It was the muppet. I thought he was ringing to congratulate me for a job well done. Instead he wanted to know why I had chopped 20 seconds off one of his pieces to camera. It’s c**ts like that who have contributed to my disillusionment and general disdain for TV as a medium.”
This disillusionment was capped after he worked with a well-known presenter who “personally and comprehensively introduced me to all the traits and characteristics that make Idi Amin or Pol Pot look positively sympathetic.”
“Part of my problem with mainstream media is personal. I don’t fit any known demographic. I’m not a woman or a parent, which makes most of the content of the Guardian, Daily Mail and daytime TV completely irrelevant to my life. I currently don’t have a job, I live relatively off the beaten track (physically and spiritually), so 90 per cent of what’s out there in newspapers, magazines or TV means nothing to me. I am marginalised. I have to resort to the nether regions of the internet to find content that stimulates me.
“And as for the celebrity-obsessed era we live in, where the f**k did that come from? When did the messenger, i.e. Martin Clunes or Amanda Holden, become more important than the content?
“Even as recently as the 80s, when I got my first job in TV on Network 7, there was no such job description as “TV presenter”. The people you saw on the box were bone fide journalists like Alan Whicker, experts such as David Attenborough or seasoned entertainers like Michael Palin or Bruce Forsyth. They were all natural role models, not fame-hungry reality show contestants, sh*t actors, or WAGs with ideas above their station.”
The intelligence and skill that made Ward special as a presenter, a reporter and a producer, are no longer needed. Instead the TV world is cluttered with those who prefer the veneer of lifestyle than the shared experience of a life.
“My last job in TV was when a good friend of mine who has always admired my slightly maverick tendencies set up his own indie TV production company and employed me as his head of development. I tried to warn him that my ideas wouldn’t fit the templates of most of the idiots running mainstream TV, but he gave me the job anyway.
“During my year there, we got access all areas with Detroit Gang Squad and filmed a taster with them, but no-one was interested, despite it being the murder capital of the US and home to all sorts of universally-loved pop culture references ranging from Motown to Motor City.
“I also personally tracked down and secured access to all the (still-living) key protagonists from “the New York Subway Vigilante” shooting of 1984, including the vigilante Bernie Goetz himself. The 25th anniversary was imminent and the incident is still regarded as a significant milestone in the history of race relations in New York and the city’s transformation from most dangerous in the world to one of the safest.
“By the time it became clear that commissioning editors were only interested in us providing vehicles for their stables of celebrity presenters rather than original content – most indie production companies are glorified taxi providers – I decided I’d had enough. So I left, but not before I scored us our only commission, a one-off doco for BBC about Glasgow airport hero John Smeaton’s doomed attempt to stand as an MP in the Glasgow NE by-election in November 2009.”
Trevor Ward deserves better. He’s too intelligent, too good, and his loss from our screens says much about what is wrong with TV today. But that loss hasn’t stopped Ward from evolving.
Each time Trevor quit TV, he chose to work at something different, whether in VSO, as a postman, studying to become a qualified football referee, or training as a Cordon Bleu chef, as he did a decade ago, which led to “a couple of low level cheffing jobs.” Yet all through this, writing was still crucial to Ward and he turned his experiences into magazine articles.
Last Christmas Ward started training for the Tour de France, in a snow covered Auchmithie.
“Training was hampered by the snow. I didn’t have the luxury of an indoor turbo trainer and wasn’t able to get out on my bike for over a month, so I dusted off my 20-year-old Concept 2 rowing machine which is the most evil piece of fitness apparatus known to man.
“I had to stop myself becoming obsessed with target heart rates, basal metabolic rates, calorific intakes, etc. otherwise I’d have spent more time with a slide rule than on my bike.
“I’ve cycled all my life, since I was about five. This is the biggest cliché in the book, but nothing else gives you the sense of freedom.”
On the eve of his last day cycling the Tour de France, Ward posted the following on his Facebook page:
“Just drove the route and wish I hadn’t. The descents are scary as f**k, never mind the climbs. Some things are best left unknown.”
If you would like to sponsor Trevor Ward’s Tour de France cycle for on to Macmillan Cancer Support, then please click here.
Extracts from this interview originally appeared on Dangerous Minds