The axe had been poised over my head for months before it fell across my neck three years ago. I should have seen it coming, but the changes in the television industry over here had crept up on me while I was safe in my monthly pay cheque bubble.
I had become complacent and assumed that I would be the one to decide when I was leaving. As a forty-something television producer, my CV had swiftly become about as valuable as a black and white TV. Being technically and physically challenged (dodgy sight and back), self-shooting and editing my own programmes was never going to happen. Tight budgets made multi-tasking essential, something I had hoped wouldn’t catch on.
It was a perfect climate for the fearsomely ambitious Twelve Year Olds who, fresh from their media studies courses, were eager to wipe out the Old Guard like a new strain of e-coli virus.
They didn’t cost as much and weren’t big into fact-checking, but they were willing to pick up a camera. With good eyesight, sturdy backs and the fact that they secretly knew that people like me had no choice but to bow to their self-shooting wizardry, they stomped the word redundant on my forehead with their trainers. When their footage came back slightly out-of-focus or with no audio, it made me misty for the days when a cameraman was just a cameraman and a soundman was just reassuringly weird.
Everyone back home had been rather impressed when I fell into a job at the BBC. I found myself working on a business program which was pretty intimidating as things like the Footsie 100 and the Dow Jones had never figured largely in my life. At first, the office atmosphere was as hushed as a library. I would walk in and find everyone hidden behind the pink pages of The Financial Times, a paper I found impenetrable. They all seemed to have economics degrees from Oxford or Cambridge, so I decided that perhaps it wasn’t a good idea to reveal my experiences on Good Morning Australia with Bert Newton.
My boss, the executive producer was a posh, grumpy man in his late fifties. My desk faced into his glass office, so despite not saying much to each other over the years, I felt like I knew him like a white-coated scientist knows his lab mouse. A couple of weeks before Christmas, he called me into his office, a rare event.
I’ve never been good with authority figures since my convent education, so I went in with my heart thumping. He looked down at his hands and I noticed that his neck had gone a bright, patchy red. I felt sick. He said he was sorry, but he wouldn’t be renewing my contract again. He tried to comfort me by saying that other people in the office would also be going and that he would give me a good reference, but he may as well been talking in Tolkien’s finest Elvish for all that I took in.
I remember walking home in the rain feeling like I had been thrown out of a members’ club into the cold. As this was London in December, it was freezing, so I felt even more sorry for myself. My colleagues were sympathetic, but I could see in their faces that they were relieved it wasn’t them. My fate was sealed, but they still had hope that things might turn around, for a while at least. We weren’t to know then that long-term contracts and permanent jobs would soon become as rare as 50-year-old female television presenters.
On my last day, I told my boss that I didn’t want one of his long speeches where he tries very hard to be funny, so we all headed down to the pub. The only good thing about being one of the first to go was that ‘farewell party fatigue’ hadn’t set in yet and there was a generous budget for the bar. Lots of people turned up and as I looked around the room with eyes that kept threatening to well up, I wondered how many people would stay in touch.
This wasn’t my first experience of redundancy, but this time felt different. There wasn’t much in the media three years ago about how more and more professionals were starting to lose their jobs. Later, newspapers and magazines would be saturated with irritating articles trying to put a positive spin on redundancy by featuring people who saw it as a chance to fulfil their life-long ambitions to become a florist or build a cupcake empire.
This time, I was getting flung out into the world just before the worst recession since the 1930s and I had no idea what I would do.
Amanda Austen is a television and website producer who also writes articles for newspapers and magazines and is currently writing a book. Check out her website here. Expect Amanda to become a new local around these parts…