BBC Radio 4’s flagship Today Programme has captured the nation’s attention for six decades. Ever wondered what its presenters get up to when they are not reading the news or grilling the nation’s politicians? It turns out household names like John Humphrys, Mishal Husain, Justin Webb, Nick Robinson and Sarah Montague live ordinary lives and have to perform mundane chores away from their high-pressured studios.
Artist Nigel Shafran’s 14-minute film lays their lives outside the studio walls bare. He uses his trademark observation-led vision in the simple narrative which begins with the presenters’ early morning routines. Montague talks about looking at her children sleeping with the light from her mobile phone. It then leads on to breakfast habits, coffee, everyday chores. There are panning shots of the studio, which is dark and quiet apart from screens flashing a steady stream of news. The film ends with Humphrys’ touching recollection of his earliest memory, the death of his sister.
The video portrait of the five regular presenters is on display at the National Portrait Gallery to mark the programme’s 60th anniversary. Filmed by in and around the Today studio over three days in July 2017, John Humphrys, Sarah Montague, Mishal Husain, Nick Robinson and Justin Webb were questioned by artist Nigel Shafran about their daily lives, domestic habits, shopping lists, conversations and memories.
Their recollections are juxtaposed with scenes of empty studios and office spaces. The audio content of the new portrait, Today Everyday, provides a change of context for the presenters’ voices, which for Today listeners are normally heard discussing world affairs.
The 14-minute film has a simple narrative beginning with the presenters’ early morning. In this opening section Sarah Montague talks about looking at her children sleeping with the light from her mobile phone. It then leads on to breakfast habits, coffee, everyday chores. Technology is discussed in-terms of how it assists tasks; how it can provide connections between people.
Shafran’s photographic work is celebrated for a perception of moments, figures and objects that appear incidental, but can be revealing, significant, and sometimes humorous and often tender. He says: ‘‘My thoughts were concerned with how the Today presenters bring world events into our homes, but what is of interest to me are the details of people’s lives, the day-to-day domestic, the personal, non-events often overlooked, which include details such as eating habits, shopping lists, relatives talked to, memories.”
BBC Radio 4’s flagship news and current affairs programme Today is broadcast Monday to Saturday mornings and is the most popular programme on Radio 4 with over seven and a half million listeners a week. Launched on the BBC Home Service on 28 October 1957, it is edited by former Evening Standard editor Sarah Sands.
Phillip Prodger, Head of Photographs, National Portrait Gallery, London, says: “The arc of the film moves from seemingly mundane insights into the everyday lives of the presenters, moving to reflections on technology and communication, and concluding with explorations of family and loss. It portrays the announcers sympathetically, providing a window on their personalities, whilst at the same time offering a touchstone to bigger issues about how the Today programme itself, and broadcast media, affects us all. All of which is achieved with humour, insight, and seriousness of purpose.”
Shafran is best known for his independent work, which makes subtle narratives from everyday life. His books includes Ruthbook, Dad’s Office, Flowers for _____, Ruth on the phone, Teenage Precinct Shoppers and Dark Rooms (2016). Shafran has exhibited internationally and his photographs have been collected by the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Arts Council amongst others.
EVERYDAY AT TODAY
- Today Everyday by Nigel Shafran, Room 32, National Portrait Gallery, London, from 31 October 2017. Admission free.