John Mitchell: media interviews on weather and climate change

John Mitchell remembers BBC media training following the '1987 storm' in Britain, and appearance in a more recent television programme concerning climate change.

The first media session I went on it was professional presenters and interviewers and I think we did a series of four interviews a number of us went up to – I think we went up to London. It was just after the storm of 1987 so I think the Met Office wanted to make sure that the people it was putting forward to comment on such things were competent essentially. And I think they started with one interview which was essentially you’re standing in front of the Met Office today after the great storm, there’s stuff lying all over the place where it’s been blown and people are asking, ‘Well what happened?’ and, ‘Why did you get it wrong?’ and so forth. Hugh Scully was one of the interviewers and I forget the lady, I do remember [laughs] she was saying, you know, ‘Why couldn’t you predict the great storm?’ I think this was in the specialised interview, and I was explaining that, as I have to you – climate behaves chaotically and it was a bit like a pinball and she looked at me and said, ‘Yes, it’s a very expensive game of pinball isn’t it Dr Mitchell?’ [laughs]. So you do have to be careful that there are no hostages for fortune, and my experience of interviews are very incredibly – I can remember one interview which didn't go well, essentially it was a model – a programme which went out I think on Channel Four which really was in quite an aggressive way questioning the whole concept of manmade climate. And when I actually saw the programme afterwards, just to give a bit of background, the people who were the good guys appeared in nice bright settings and perhaps in their – with books or something behind them and so on, well lit.  The people who were being essentially portrayed as the bad guys, which I think I was one [laughs], were portrayed in a much darker setting and the camera actually panned in much [more] closely as they came down to critical questions. And the thing I remember about that, I was being asked about the ability of the model to simulate rainfall in I think the Sahara, which is a place where it didn’t do very well. And I stuttered, I stumbled and they – in good broadcasting practice they should take that out and just re-run it or re-do it again but they left it in. And then they had Pat Michaels saying, ‘Well it’s not that these climate modellers are bumbling idiots,’ so that conjunction I think was – was quite wickedly put together.

  • Interviewee John Mitchell
  • Duration 00:02:44
  • Copyright British Library Board
  • Interviewer Paul Merchant
  • Date of interview 7/13/2012
  • Shelfmark C1379/81

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