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Student case study - Neil N

Neil N

His mellifluous tones have singled him out as one of the most distinctive presenters on BBC Radio 4.

Millions of other listeners around the globe know him for his World Service broadcasts – no mean achievement from the boy from Jamaica who, as a 12-year-old, listened avidly to the radio and dreamed of one day reading the news himself.

Neil Nunes came to the UK in 2003 and was already an experienced freelance broadcaster on the World Service when he signed up for the nine-month postgraduate course in September 2004.

Born in Kingston, he was presenting on radio at the age of 18, initially with a university station and later as newsreader and reporter for radio networks in the Dutch Caribbean, at the same time serving as a correspondent for the BBC Caribbean Service.

Nonetheless he had no hesitation in signing up for the demanding evening course – and says his subsequent diploma still has pride of place on his wall at home.

“I have always been interested in training and for me, one of the things journalists should realise is that they always need an ‘edge’,” he says. “I was on the radio but the LSJ course helped greatly.”

The features writing lectures “encouraged us to think creatively”, he recalls – while the travel lectures emphasised the “business” of journalism, something Neil was keenly aware of as a lifelong freelance.

“And the law in particular was brilliant. All of these things give you the edge,” he says. “You gain confidence.”

He left the course at the point that the BBC was expanding its online service and requiring its journalists to be multiskilled, and he felt well prepared for the challenge, producing copy faster than he had done previously, with a keener nose for news and a broader legal awareness.

 “I had to be doing more writing for the Caribbean Service and one of the things about being able to write better is that you work better. I was able to turn around the copy in half the time.

“I started getting more confident and making more money. The whole essence of a story is contained in your head and you are able to move a story forward.

“I remember one of my bosses saying that the course had really helped. Having done so much writing makes you able to see the story immediately.”

Neil’s appointment as continuity announcer for Radio 4 in 2006 was not without controversy, however.

Indeed, protests from die-hard listeners about his Caribbean accent – and the corresponding furore these provoked from his supporters – made headline news.

“Voice from Jamaica divides Radio 4 listeners” proclaimed The Independent in April 2006, reporting that Neil’s voice had “appalled and delighted Middle England Radio 4’s listeners in equal measure”, provoking more than 200 contributions to the BBC’s online forum.

Neil steadfastly refused to comment, the controller of Radio 4, Mark Damazer, defended his appointment, and eventually the fuss died down.

“I was told to expect it,” he admits. “But it was little bit more than I had expected and went on for a while. Now, I couldn’t care less.”

Perhaps what helped him cope with the storm in a teacup was his love of his World Service role, where his career effectively started and where his greatest satisfaction lies, in speaking to millions of listeners around the world.

At the age of 28, he can still recall how he felt as a boy waiting to hear the 8pm broadcast from the World Service in London. And as a producer for the Caribbean Service, it’s still the aspect of his working life that poses the biggest journalistic challenges. His role there involves interviewing, reporting, writing, packaging and editing stories for transmission.

“When you are a journalist, you understand the story better. You know the story, you have that sense of scepticism. You can put all of that into the story.”

But although his training helped, he still believes journalists have to make their own luck – and go that extra mile to succeed in a competitive world, especially during a time of cutbacks and cost savings.

He remembers tackling a particularly difficult documentary that involved 1am stints in the office in order to conduct an interview with someone in Las Vegas.

“There will always be opportunities for the best people and the best stories,” he says. And he believes the credit crunch is simply another hurdle which might actually help to produce a better calibre of journalist. “You have to be the best you can be,” he insists.

And what does the future hold for the young boy from Jamaica who became the voice that millions hear on their radios every night? It’s hard to think about the future when you are living the dream, Neil admits.

“i have been doing this for 10 years now,” he says. “Maybe management? Who knows?”

Wherever his career takes him, you somehow get the feeling this is one voice we are likely to hear on the airwaves for a long time to come...