Tag Archives: Alan Whicker

Listen like Whicker!

Alan Whicker was 90 last week and AA Gill paid tribute in Culture. “He is one of the handful of really great TV journalists who combine a solid reporter’s skill with a brilliantly timed dry humour and meticulous delivery. Whicker’s abiding craft was to make nature programmes about people”.


 “He viewed plutocrats and despots, the hoplessly rich and haughty, the vain and the snobbish, and elegantly and gently skewered them on their own hubris. Whicker’s interviews and observations were like a matador teasing out alpha bulls”.

Having been fortunate to work with him on a couple of occasions I have seen the ‘skewering and teasing out’ in action. The secret lay in his uncanny ability to listen! He did this so powerfully and so naturally, making the interviewees feel they were uniquely interesting, that confessions were inevitable.

In the lead up to any pitch really listening  to the client’s needs, and issues, and not leaping to conclusions is essential, avoiding the error well expressed in this quote  by an Albert Guinon 1863- 1923 :

 “There are people who, instead of listening to what is being said to them, are already listening to what they are going to say themselves”.



Alan Whicker, the listener

Alan is back on our screens.  Some thirty years since he first launched his own inimitable brand persona – bank manager style, the moustache,  the spectacles – his latest series, Journey of a Lifetime, has just started on BBC2.  It is a revealing and entertaining retrospective that reminds us that nobody has ‘done it better’.

He had, and still has in his eighties, a great turn of phrase, a wry delivery and, of course, fascinating subjects.  But what set him apart was his uncanny ability to ask intrusive and often devastating questions.  For example, asking the lagubrious Paul Getty to explain how  “Your great success in business is matched by your abysmal failure as a husband”  (Getty having been divorced five times)

Having worked with him on some commercials in the nineties, I came to realise  that his skill as a questioner was rooted in his ability to listen in the first place.  He was the ‘best listener’ I have  ever come across.  He made others, less well known than he was,  feel that they were the interesting ones.   This is why people opened up to him.

In the pitch situation, our eagerness to talk, and show how clever we are, can stop us listening to the prospects -who may want to show how clever they are!

An earlier post on Oct 23 touched on this referring to Paul Arden’s book,  Whatever You Think, Think the Opposite.  One of his chapter headings read ” If you want to be interesting, be interested”. 

Are you listening?