Friday morning, 7:30am and a dream comes true. I’m in Duke Humfrey’s Library outside opening hours. But not, alas, to consult any manuscripts. I was there to be interviewed about the Duke himself. In conjunction with the British Library exhibition of Royal Manuscripts that will open in November, BBC Four has commissioned a series on manuscripts and kingship. It is being presented by the vivacious Nina Ramirez, who, in a whistle-stop tour, is trekking across the country and interviewing a galaxy of experts on medieval England. And, it was Friday, so it must be Oxford, and it is Oxford, so it must be Humfrey.
We were able to film at the Arts End of the Old Bodleian until just before 9am, when we had to decamp to New College Lane. Nina and I had to demonstrate that we could walk and talk at the same time — which, I think I can say without fear of contradiction, we did with aplomb (apart, perhaps, from when I walked into the bookcase). I learnt that al fresco interviewing has the potential pitfalls of passers-by, as was shown when a gentleman decided to walk right behind us and then crossed over to the director saying ‘Sorry – did I ruin that shot? You should get a real job’.
Those who know me will not be surprised that I may have proven less than biddable as an interviewee. I have strong views on Humfrey and was not about to change my interpretation to be on TV. So, ‘Humfrey really needs books for his job running the country, doesn’t he?’ — well, he needs to be seen to be interested in learning… ‘He was a Renaissance prince, then?’ Not quite… Nor was I able to get in as much about his sex life as I should have done.
But it was an enjoyable experience, in genial and very professional company. It is probably the only chance I will have to talk to a wide audience about Antonio Beccaria (on whom I have written on this site). And the high point? Walking out of the Bodleian after an hour’s filming past those readers who were hoping to be the first in the library that day.