From working as Pudsey Bear, reporting on fat dogs, and filming a documentary on orangutans, to telling the story of a global pandemic, Harriet Bradshaw’s journalism career has been eventful.
Harriet (Archaeology and Anthropology 2005) has worked in local radio and regional television in Jersey and Devon, and, since March, has worked alongside BBC Health Editor Hugh Pym on the COVID-19 pandemic.
She says: “When I was asked if I wanted to be paired with Hugh Pym on the coronavirus story – they said ‘we think it might be a big deal’ – I told them, you know how tall I am?
“I’m 5ft 5ins and he’s very tall, 6ft 7ins. For social distancing, you need to be a Pym apart.”
Having a sense of humour has helped Harriet and the team she has been working with – primarily Pym and producer Dominic Hurst – to navigate a truly sobering story of survival, and death.
Prior to filming a special report from Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge in April, Harriet learned of a personal tragedy.
“A fortnight before a friend, not much older myself, had died from COVID-19,” Harriet says.
“I went in to ICU (the Intensive Care Unit) knowing there were people really poorly, like my friend. They are someone’s child, brother, sister, spouse, parent, grandparent, friend…
“The best films I see are when you can see the person behind the camera is being really compassionate… I went in there with great compassion.
“You can’t detach yourself from the fact that those are human beings lying in those beds, and they’re not just human beings, or statistics, they are people’s family and friends.
“We were going into places where families couldn’t. The hospitals invited us in because they wanted the public to see their efforts, and to get across that this virus is a killer.
“When you’re in that environment, having the reason why you are there constantly in your head is very, very helpful. You’re not there to look. You’re there with a purpose, and a responsibility.”
The report earned Harriet and the team a BBC News prize, and she, Pym, and others continue to inform us about the pandemic on a near daily basis. In early November, Harriet and Pym reported on the pressures on the NHS caused by a second wave of coronavirus.
She had an inauspicious start to her career. After leaving Fitzwilliam in 2008 at the height of the banking crisis, finding work was tough. She was employed by the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, but it was mainly her extracurricular activities which led her to where she is now.
She worked for Reprezent Radio in Peckham, telling community stories, and did outreach work with Headliners, a charity which gives young people a voice by using journalism and media as a tool for learning. She also created podcasts for the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, when the medium was in its infancy.
It was suggested by a colleague that she do a masters in journalism, so she saved for the fees, got some help from her parents and aunt, and went to City University, London to study Broadcast Journalism. Six months of freelancing followed, including at BBC Radio Somerset, where she had to wear a Pudsey Bear costume for BBC Children In Need, and was recognised for a report on fat dogs.
“It was a radio story and was picked up by national news, because I introduced it by having the dog crunching a biscuit as experts talked about this overweight dog,” she says, laughing.
Harriet was then offered a job with BBC Radio Jersey, a stint which included producing and directing a documentary on orangutans in the island, and then their wild relatives in Sumatra, Indonesia (watch on YouTube). Sir David Attenborough praised the film for its insight into efforts to save orangutans. The radio documentary she produced and presented earned her and the team a bronze Gillard Award, awards for BBC Local Radio stations.
She moved to Devon, where she was tasked with coming up with exclusives, one of which was on the ‘Buff Pound’, the spending power of naturists. She was also the first reporter to witness the huge and devastating fire at the Royal Clarence Hotel in Exeter, the oldest hotel in England.
“Whether it’s keeping a community informed during things like snow storms, or digging into untold stories, or holding local leaders to account, regional news has a tangible connection to the audience it serves, it’s so important,” she says.
Harriet has shown great versatility, and her decision to move behind the camera has been to improve her shooting and editing skills, and thus improve her own broadcasts when she returns in front of the camera as a reporter/producer/director of her own films. It has brought with it the added benefit of working with Pym, who must now be one of the most recognisable reporters on television. He has one flaw.
“He’s a Dark Blue,” Harriet says.
“At the moment it’s like having a second family, because we’ve been working for such a long time, at an extraordinary time.
“It makes a world of difference. We’re getting on with the job, smiling, asking about our own families, and it’s a really lovely atmosphere, despite the times being quite harrowing. It’s really fun. I love working with them.
“Hugh Pym is known as the most gentlemanly journalist at the BBC. He’s a delight, a pleasure. He has made it, as a BBC Editor, but he treats you as an equal. He really values what you do, always wants a bit of input. It’s definitely a team effort.
“We work together pretty well, even with the height difference. If you see Hugh sitting down, it helps me. I work with a mono-pod, a pole which I put on the camera and sits in a pouch on a belt.
“The job is challenging and tough, but working with people you really like to work with – including our brilliant producer Dom – it keeps you going.”
Being a broadcast journalist might sound like a departure from her undergraduate degree, but Harriet insists it is not.
She says: “I specialised in Social Anthropology at Fitz, and I still use it all the time. In terms of journalism and anthropology going together, it’s such a good degree to do, because it’s about understanding people.
“Going into a room and trying to understand a story from someone else’s perspective, and trying to put aside your prejudices is a key thing in ethnographic research, which I learnt, and still use now.”
She is one of many journalists who studied at Fitzwilliam, including Sky News Political Editor Beth Rigby, BBC Sports Editor Dan Roan, BBC Moscow Correspondent Sarah Rainsford, BBC South America Correspondent Katy Watson, BBC News Sports Correspondent Joe Wilson, and Ciaran Jenkins on Channel 4 News, to name a few.
She says: “The community at Fitz is amazing, and I got the sense that, yes, there are lots of people who have their heads buried in their books, but it’s a very social college.
“If you want to be a good journalist, you’ve got to have an interest in people, and socialising. You’ve got to find common ground very quickly when you’re interviewing someone.
“Most of the friends I made were inquisitive people. Maybe there’s something in the water at the top of the hill!”