If you feel you have been invited on to a TV or radio programme under false pretences, should you make this clear to viewers and listeners by throwing a strop? My usual advice is no, it will probably make you look self-important and rather pathetic – if you’re unable to cope with the hurly-burly of the live interview, you shouldn’t have agreed to come on. And yet – if you can illustrate to the audience the artifice of programme construction and demonstrate you’ve been badly treated, while showing you can take a swift change in direction in your stride, you can score a hit. This morning on Radio Four’s ‘Today’ programme, Ruth Davidson of the Scottish Conservatives just about pulled it off. Before answering the first question on a possible name-change for the party north of the border, she made it clear to presenter John Humphrys she thought the programme had been a ‘little bit naughty’, as she was told she would be following another speaker (who had presumably been cut), and talking about the historical context rather than the current machinations.
To the listener this may have sounded like hair-splitting, but Ms Davidson’s bright and chirpy (not chippy) style, and her willingness to deal with what was thrown at her, kept the audience on-side, while demonstrating she was not to be messed with. For less practised performers the key is always to be ready to deal with broader issues rather than a narrow line of questioning – be prepared for blunt and brutal or a switch of direction just in case, then do your best and keep your cool. Never get angry with the presenter, and only as a last resort say something like ‘well I don’t have a view on that, but the point I did want to make is …’