In 1997 I had my first call from the BBC. I was on the phone to someone else when my secretary rushed in to tell me that Newsnight wanted to speak to me.
I decided to take the call. My mind was racing. Could they have become aware of my expertise in advising on the changing basis of taxation and the introduction of self-assessment? Did they need a new media pundit to explain the Chancellor’s tax decisions in the budget. Did they want me to expand on a recent article I’d written in the accountancy press? In a split second I saw myself as a regular TV pundit explaining complex tax issues so that a TV audience could understand them. It never happened!
Apparently that morning there had been a full page feature in one of the broadsheets, as a result of a press release issued by one of the largest firms of accountants. It seems that they were sponsoring a new film in which they had insisted that the lead character would be a chartered accountant, rather than a solicitor. Then, as now, films were more likely to feature sexy solicitors and luscious lawyers rather than the exciting and glamorous life of a chartered accountant.
The producer of Newsnight wanted to do a piece about the prospective film and whether there was any real prospect of chartered accountants being seen as anything other than boring.
I remember asking how the producer had got my name. I found out later that they had phoned the Institute of Chartered Accountants and asked if they had any accountants who weren’t boring. Apparently, the PR people they spoke to immediately thought of someone quite senior. But then concluded that he was boring. The same things happened for the next two senior people they thought of. "Oops, no sorry, he's boring too." So, they gave up but tried to make out that they simply didn't want to be seen to be favouring anyone in particular. They suggested instead that the researcher contact Accountancy Age newspaper. Now, I was well-known to a number of the journalists on Accountancy Age and had been featured on the back cover two or three times with some spurious link between accountancy, tax and magic.
As a result, they passed on my details to the Newsnight producer who thought that I'd be perfect. A successful chartered accountant with a sideline as a bit of a magician. And best of all I wasn't boring!