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Correspondent’s Week

This week by Richard Westcott of BBC News in Stockport

I know journalists spend their week sipping free booze at PR parties and sponging free toilet bags but life is a bit different at the BBC. Unless someone’s not telling me something. I have spent the last couple of days pulling a wheelie suitcase around Stockport in the rain looking for an estate agent who would let us film their window.

I get the impression that they do not see many wheelie cases in Stockport. I could be wrong. Anyway, as I rumble past the hat museum, I realise I have been staring at an exclusive for weeks without realising.

There is a ministry that we all pay for but the Government denies it even exists. Its field agents roam the UK mainly looking for me but they will pick on anyone who is travelling on a budget.

It is the MOCD, the Ministry of Can’t Do. Don’t get me wrong. Unlike many people I know, I enjoy my job. I love seeing the country, I love the wide variety of stories, I love making telly and our office is a very happy, proud place right now because we have been consistently beating GMTV in the ratings. But the MOCD is always there casting a shadow over my life.

One of their agents catches up with me in Norwich. She is dressed as a hotel receptionist but I can tell it is a wig. I want to buy some raw vegetables from their kitchen to use as TV props. Granted, it is an odd request but not an unreasonable one. It is late and raining. The nearest Tesco is a 10-minute walk. I am prepared to pay the market rate, they have enough veg to spare, etc. Without even asking her boss or the chef, she tells me they do not do that kind of thing. So I get wet walking to Tesco.

Another callous attack comes near Corby. This time, the agent is dressed as a hotel restaurant worker. The uniform is even convincing. I have gone to breakfast in my socks. No reason, I just fancied it. I thought it might be liberating.

Now I know going to breakfast in socks is scummy but surely it is not dangerous. I am denied access to the buffet because something hot might fall on to my foot. I say I will not sue them if that happens but she grits her teeth and tells me she is simply concerned for my safety.

While I am going without food down-stairs, one of their colleagues sneaks into my tiny bathroom and puts up six ministry signs, warning me that hot water is hot and wet baths are slippy. I cut my ear shaving because I am reading the signs. Now I might sue.

Top prize, though, goes to the agent who humiliates me at a petrol station around Leicester. Despite a long queue at his till and an even longer queue of cars waiting to fill up behind me, he spots me from some distance using my mobile phone while sitting in the car.

Everything grinds to a halt as he grabs the tannoy and tells me I am risking all our lives by waving this incendiary device around a petrol forecourt.

As it happens, I am not using the phone or even planning to use it. As it happens, I keep reading all this scientific advice saying it is a myth that mobiles can ignite petrol but I have already learned it is fruitless arguing with the brave men and women of the MOCD so I put down my sparking mobile phone, start my car, which has four spark plugs, a battery and an alternator and drive off.

There you are then. An exclusive and a possible answer to where all that reported Government tax waste is going. I am off to Stornoway soon. Surely they cannot reach me there.

Any Out of Contexts or Diary stories? Send them to Diary editor Paul McMillan, email: or telephone: 020 7970 4776


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