The wrong guy interview story (interviews, preparation, thinking on your feet, communications)This is a true story. It concerned Guy Goma, a lovely cuddly business graduate from the Congo, who on 8th May 2006 attended the BBC building in West London for an interview for an IT job. At the same time, the BBC News 24 TV channel was expecting a Guy Kewney (now sadly deceased), editor of the website Newswireless.net, for a live 10.30am studio interview about the Apple court case judgement. (Apple Corps, owned by surviving Beatles McCartney and Starr, lost their case against Apple Computers, in which they sought to prevent the Apple name being used in relation to iTunes music downloads.)
Due to failed communications, entirely the BBC's fault (both Guys were blameless in this), the BBC News 24 staff grabbed the wrong Guy (waiting in a different reception to Guy Kewney), who, being an unassuming, foreign and extremely polite fellow, dutifully took his place in the studio, and after declining make-up (really), was introduced on live TV to viewers as Guy Kewney, editor of the technology website 'Newswireless', and then asked three questions by the BBC News 24 business presenter Karen Bowerman about the Apple judgements and its implications for internet music downloading.
Meanwhile the real Guy Kewney sat and watched 'himself' on the monitor in the BBC reception. See the 'wrong Guy' interview. (At some stage in the future the link to the BBC interview clip might cease working - I don't know how long they keep these things. Let me know when and if you can no longer see the video clip and I'll try to source it elsewhere. As at Jun 2010 - thanks Joe - it seems that the clip is not so easy to play as it once was, although the video is still available via the BBC's 'Launch in stand alone player' link for the 'wrong Guy' item.
What's so utterly fascinating about this story and the supporting video, is:
Guy Goma initially expresses surprise about the interview situation, but, largely due to his broken English and heavy French accent the interviewer interprets and leads Mr Goma's response to mean that he is surprised about the court judgement. If you listen carefully Guy Goma does actually mention his 'interview' in his first answer. See the transcript below. However the pressure of the situation is too great and he has little option other than to play out the role that the fates have created for him. He actually does quite well, given that he knows little about the subject. Subsequent media reports that Guy Goma was a taxi driver are false - he's a business graduate. He later attended his IT job interview but regrettably was unsuccessful. You can read what Guy Kewney thought of it all on his own blog at www.newswireless.net (there are several entries - read them all to see the full picture).
As mentioned, sadly Guy Kewney has since died, on 8 Apr 2010. His blog as at Sep 2010 still stands. Please let me know if it ceases to be available. On hearing of Guy Kewney's passing (thanks D Guy - another different Guy..) I considered whether to remove or retain this item and obviously I decided to retain it. I never met Guy Kewney. From what I understand he seems to have been a lovely man. The opportunity to say this is part of my decision.
the wrong guy interview transcriptKaren Bowerman: ...Well, Guy Kewney is editor of the technology website Newswireless.
[Camera switches to Guy Goma's face, portraying a mixture of shock, disbelief and impending disaster.]
KB: Hello, good morning to you.
Guy Goma: Good morning.
KB: Were you surprised by this verdict today?
GG: I am very surprised to see... this verdict, to come on me because I was not expecting that. When I came they told me something else and I am coming. Got an interview... [another word, impossible to discern] .... a big surprise anyway.
KB: A big surprise, yes, yes. [seeming a little anxious]
GG: Exactly. [growing in confidence]
KB: With regard to the costs involved do you think now more people will be downloading online?
GG: Actually, if you go everywhere you are gonna see a lot of people downloading to internet and the website everything they want. But I think, is much better for development and to empower people what they want and to get on the easy way and so faster if they are looking for.
KB: This does really seem the way the music industry's progressing now, that people want to go onto the website and download music.
GG: Exactly. You can go everywhere on the cyber cafe and you can take [maybe 'check'?], you can go easy. It's going to be very easy way for everyone to get something to the internet.
KB: Thank you [actually sounds more like 'Thank Kewney' - as if Ms Bowerman was a little distracted, no wonder]. Thanks very much indeed.
Lessons from this:
- Good clear communications are essential when managing any sort of interview.
- Pressure situations can easily lead people (especially interviewees) to give false impressions, which are no help to anyone.
- The behaviours demonstrated in this incident illustrate the power of suggestion, and NLP, albeit used mostly inadvertently in this case; the point is that all communications involve a hell of a lot more than just words..
- The power of the media to interpret just about anything for their own journalistic purposes is bloody frightening.
by Guy J Kewney | posted on 10 May 2006
Really, what matters is that the BBC doesn't look stupid...
- and here it's 10.29 so, yes, I'm somewhat anxious, because I'm still in reception, not in the studio. That's after one or two "Excuse me, but… do they know?" style queries with reception, asking if they have, indeed, told the studio I'm here. And they have. "Someone will be down for you," I'm assured.
Am I ready for this fifteen seconds of fame? Oh, yes, I'm ready. I've spent the weekend researching the lawsuit. I’ve researched the real legal experts like Alice Graves, and I'm prepared to compare the iPod with a blank CD. At my normal rates, work like this would cost you a few hundred quid. But this being the BBC, I'm doing it for nothing – as most of us do, these days, in order that they can pay Jonathan Ross several million a year...
It is at this point, just about a minute before I'm due to go on, that anybody watching the channel would have been fascinated to see me introduced live on air, as the expert witness in the studio. Me? Not fascinated; astonished!
What would you feel, if while you were sitting in that rather chilly reception area, you suddenly saw yourself – not sitting in reception, but live, on TV? "A bit surprised?"
There were several surprising things about my interview. We'll ignore the fact that I wasn't giving it, and had not given it. We'll even gloss over the fact that, judging by my performance, English wasn't my first language, and that I didn't seem to know much about Apple Computer, online music, or the Beatles. People have accused me of all those things, at various stages of my career.
But let's admit it: of all the things you can say about me, one word that really has to be deleted from the list is this one: "Black." We're talking biometrics, here. We're talking about "twins separated at birth, only their mother could tell them apart"... NOT!
I'm not black. I'm not black on a startling scale; I'm fair-haired, blue-eyed, prominent-nosed, and with the sort of pale skin that makes my dermatologist wince each time I complain about an itchy mole. I'm a walking candidate for chronic sunburn damage. I’m really, really not black.
But the guy on screen - sorry, the "Guy Kewney" live, on screen, definitely was. Black. Also, he spoke with a French-sounding accent, and he seemed as baffled as I felt. At first, he seemed puzzled that anybody might imagine that the lawsuit had consequences, and suggested that people would still be able to download music from Internet cafes. But what about Apple? "I don't know. I’m not at all sure what I'm doing here," he admitted sadly, as they finally twigged that something was going badly wrong, and hustled him off the set.
You and me, both, kid... and so, how did it happen?
At first, I’ll admit, I thought it was hilarious. I asked the studio manager, when he finally appeared, what on earth was going on. The story he had to tell was pure farce.
"I'm dreadfully sorry!" said the studio manager, wringing his hands as if he wanted to suddenly take the day off, retrospectively. "It seems I rang Reception, not the Stage Door, and asked if you were there. And they said yes!"
So he went down to reception, and was introduced to me. That is, not this pink me, but the other, black me. Until we find out who he actually was, it’s a simple mystery how he persuaded BBC’s receptionists that he was me, and that's before we ask "Why?".
But, having done that, he had Evidence: a security pass with his name on. And that, it seems, is the definitive article; it must be True! And any other evidence could be discounted.
"Well, to be honest, I did think it couldn't be you. I mean, I've seen your picture on your web site, and he didn't look like you. So I asked him who he was, and he said: 'Guy Kewney' and I said 'Are you really Guy Kewney?' and he said yes. And I asked reception if that was you, and they said yes!"
So that was that, and they took him upstairs and put him in front of the camera. Security passes can't lie.
So if you have Sky Plus, or some other kind of personal video digital recorder (Tivo or similar) and manage to find the playback footage of the interview at 10.30, Monday May 8th, and spot the rather baffled interviewee, could you see if you know who he really is?
"We're completely baffled!" said the manager. "We asked him after his interview, if there was a problem. He said: "Well, it was OK, but I was a bit rushed..." and then he went home."
The blog item shows that I was really looking forward to doing the interview. Never mind the glory of being on the BBC, what about the enhancement such an interview offers to your professional reputation? And all gone…
Perhaps my disappointment showed on my innocent young (pink) face, because they took me upstairs and recorded a "piece to camera" where I explained my thoughts. That was some consolation, because (I reasoned) at least the world would find out that perhaps I wasn’t a complete ignoramus, without the ability to communicate in good English. Yes, I’d wasted several hours of my life, but! – at least I was getting some good publicity out of it.
Not so. Unfortunately, what I thought will remain a secret, because shortly after I did that, Apple Corps made its lawyer available for interview outside the High Court, and for some reason, the producers seem to have decided that his opinion about what would happen in the future was more important than mine. He said Apple Corps would appeal. He thought the Judge got it wrong. That was pretty much my opinion, too, but the BBC decided they preferred to have him saying it.
Well, I am very pink, so maybe that's understandable.
But the unworthy thought does persist that perhaps, those producers didn’t care much about the fact that my reputation was completely shredded by the way they put up someone who knew nothing about the subject - and claimed it was me. And the further unworthy thought occurs: that, possibly, the production mind is simply focused on the fact that if they put up my (real) interview, someone might realise that one of those Guy Kewneys could not be the real one, and that (no! surely not?) the BBC had made a complete arse of itself.
So they sent my limo out again, for someone else - a friend of mine, as it happens – Rupert Goodwins. And they asked him all the questions they’d asked me, and he gave pretty much the same sort of answers as I had done, about eight hours after I’d given them.
And the fact that a few hundred thousand people in the world are now under the impression that I’m an ignoramus who knows nothing about technology or Apple or iPods, and has a very poor command of English? – well, that’s not the Beeb’s problem, is it? After all, is a journalist going to sue the BBC and get blacklisted? Of course not!
So, if I’m not going to sue, who cares how unhappy I am?
Sense of humour failure? Me? What makes you think that?