#MySomerset: Charlie Taylor of BBC Somerset

From a very young age Charlie Taylor was mesmerised by the power of radio, so much so that his ultimate dream was to be a radio presenter. Raised in Wells, Charlie was so determined to achieve his goal that, as a teenager, he worked voluntarily on local radio and entertained tourists dressed as a monk at Glastonbury Abbey to build confidence and experience in public speaking.

And, so far, it is all working rather well. At the ridiculously young age of 26 Charlie has nearly nine years’ service with BBC Somerset on his CV. Seek his name on internet websites and you will easily locate pictures of Charlie alongside the famous; Michael Parkinson, Fiona Bruce, Michael Eavis and Henry Blofeld are a few names who Charlie has worked with to compliment the many local characters and personalities that he has showcased via the airwaves. 

And he is adaptable; in the past few months Charlie has covered stories about Somerset’s lost railways, King Alfred and the told the county’s war tales.

But to supporters of Somerset County Cricket Club Charlie is particularly well-known and much appreciated. He has hosted The Cricket Show on the station for six years, having devised and subsequently developed the show from the floorboards up. For fans it offers in-depth coverage of our beloved county side and he is able to offer unique content via exclusive interviews with the movers and shakers at the Cooper Associates County Ground. He enjoys the support and respect of the players and staff at Taunton yet is not afraid to ask the pertinent questions when any situation dictates.

And he is very much the voice of Somerset CCC for fans from near and far, as his commentary work keeps us all updated with the latest match day developments.

As well as working what he calls ‘the job of my dreams’ his work has landed him, the show and his station many awards and nominations. In 2017 he was the first broadcaster to win the Christopher Martin-Jenkins Young Cricket Journalist of the Year award. Achieved without any formal journalism qualifications, just drive, energy and passion.

I have known Charlie since he first invited me to appear on his show in 2014, and I have been a regular guest since, but I would like to understand a bit more about the young man.

So I agree to meet Charlie in Straggler’s Bar at the CACG. It is a bright if breezy March morning and the ground, with new floodlights now installed, looks highly impressive. Prior to our chat Charlie had interviewed Marcus Trescothick live on the radio to promote the upcoming World Cup.

In fact the great man himself is sat on a table slightly to my left, and Charlie’s right, engaged in a lengthy phone conversation. On the big screen are SKY TV highlights of Marcus scoring a century for England way back when. Every now and then his attention to the phone conversation appears broken as he tentatively watches another cover drive or cut. When his innings comes to an end there appears a look of disappointment on his face just as though it was happening live. And then he continues his call. It was a surreal moment. Well I thought it was a surreal moment.

Charlie was raised in a cricket mad family but his love of the game was more organic than natural. His grandfather – still going strong at a sprightly 98 years – still immerses himself in the game every day and his father was a club cricketer in Middlesex. Charlie was raised in Wells after family relocation and attended The Blue School, the largest state school in the county, but cricket was only a small part of the curriculum. But the game was soon to take a hold of the 13 year-old Charlie thanks, in part, to the gentleman still sat to my left.

“My first memory of cricket was the Channel 4 days, when it was on terrestrial TV. I remember watching the 2005 Ashes series with Tres starring for England – and the whole country seemed to be watching – and I got swept up with all that.

“We had one teacher at school who was cricket mad, and he managed to get Channel 4 beamed into his classroom, so a few of us went there every lunchtime to watch the Ashes.

“I was more of a cricket fan than Somerset fan in those days, so when Dad told me Trescothick was from Somerset I thought it was great that someone from here was on top of their game, and that led me to watch Somerset too.”

When cricket moved away from Channel 4, Charlie was fortunate that his father was now working for Sky TV, so cricket was readily available and Charlie watched Test Match cricket all the time. Hero worship came from a player plying his trade elsewhere.

“My hero was Simon Jones. Being a fast-bowler was what I always wanted to be – bowling fast and getting batsmen out. In that Ashes series he was fast and swinging it. It was a shame he drifted away from the game very quickly after that.”

But, living in Wells – some 35 miles from the County Ground – trips to watch Somerset were limited for the teenager. It was in his late teens that he was able to visit more frequently. And then he started working in Taunton and he became a regular. It was a chance to build further heroes.

“When I first starting coming I would watch James Hildreth – who is just brilliant to watch and still is the best batsman I have seen. And he is such a nice bloke too.”

Charlie spent seven years at The Blue School, staying into the Sixth Form, but he had had enough of education and it was time to think of his career aspirations. And he wanted to be a radio presenter.

“I wasn’t interested in journalism in the slightest; I didn’t really read the papers and didn’t listen to journalists on the radio, so didn’t feel connected to that. My love was Radio 1 at that point – Chris Moyles, Jo Whiley, I think Edith Bowman was there then, Scott Mills.

“And then, aged 15 or 16, I started listening to BBC Somerset and a guy called Keith Warmington, who did the slot that I now do – 7 to 10 – and I started texting in and, on local radio, those texts get read out unlike on Radio 1. So I enjoyed that – I loved hearing my name on the radio so I wanted to work on local radio.

“So I got involved with GFM, a local community station in Glastonbury – having worked as a tour guide at Glastonbury Abbey dressed as a monk, which was a great confidence builder – and got a weekly show there which was great for me.

“But I kept texting BBC Somerset and eventually they offered me a job, albeit on a voluntary basis. I was assisting – answering the phones, travel reports. It was while I was there I started watching what the newsroom journalists were doing and then decided that is what I want to do.”

A Saturday slot was offered and now Charlie had his own show. He was a radio presenter, just as he wanted. And it has opened a whole new world and he gets to meet and talk to some famous names, with one notable interview featuring Nadine Coyle of Girls Aloud. And he laughs as he recalls once announcing live on air that the ‘German Chancellor Angela Rippon was negotiating a deal.’ To be fair, Ms Rippon was a guest on the same show.

Charlie meets Blowers

But Charlie’s love of cricket and Somerset’s standing as being a county famous for its cricketing past came together to inspire Charlie into an idea that would create a show dedicated to the game. But first he would have to sell the idea to his line management. Was BBC Somerset ready to air a show all about cricket?

“I had a colleague called Pete Simson, who did all our cricket stuff and he was fantastic commentator, broadcaster and was one of the reasons I got into radio. He left to join BBC Bristol, which was a great move for him, but it left a gap here in Taunton.

“Our (BBC) sports team is based in Bristol so they focus a lot on football, which is quite right as there are two big teams in the city, and I say that as a Rovers fan! We realised that in Somerset, as a county, you are more likely to find Somerset cricket fans than Yeovil Town fans, and I know that will annoy some of their fans. But look at attendances and Somerset CCC has a huge following.

“You go to a pub in the middle of nowhere and there are signed pictures of Somerset players because cricket is ingrained, probably more than football. So we wanted to tap into that. So I asked my former boss if we could do some ad hoc shows from Taunton – and I think we did about six originally – and we brought in Ian Blackwell, who said he would be happy to be a part. He was the reason people listened. And Anthony (Gibson) would send in interviews with various players.

“It started slowly but its building and building and now more and more people want to get involved. Which is great.”

Charlie called on the help of Spencer Bishop, Somerset’s Media & Community Executive, and built the show gradually from grass roots. The club were cautious at first but Charlie has forged a great reputation and relationship with the key people at the CACG.

“They watched closely initially, a little hesitant as you would expect, but they soon realised that we aren’t here to lay into them for no reason – why would we, the players are trying their best – but they also acknowledge that if they play badly, or have a bad year, then we will be honest with that.

“We are the BBC, we are independent to the club, and Spencer and Ben (Warren, Digital Manager) acknowledge that. The club issues press releases, which are very much club focused, and we are not here to force their agenda. And they understand that.”

It is inevitable that BBC Somerset, as with any press association, are likely to have some constructive conflict with the club at times and be forced to make decisions to run stories that may not sit well with Somerset CCC. But there comes rare occasions where an exclusive rears its head and these opportunities cannot be ignored.

“There are certain interviews where you want to shout louder than others, but the best one’s where you feel most proud about are where you have uncovered a story. Not just a press release that is handed down.

“For instance, two years ago we had Jim Allenby on and he had put a small throwaway line in an interview with Stephen Lamb who had asked what Somerset could do better in T20 the following season after a poor season, and he said, ‘whoever’s doing it will have to do this and this,’ and the interview moved on. So I called Jim up and asked why he had said that as no news had been announced (from the club). He confirmed that he had been told his contract would not be renewed the following season, halfway through the current t20 season.

“I said that if he wanted he could come and talk to us. He took a few days – because the club didn’t particularly want him to do that – but he had every right to talk as he had been sacked halfway through a season yet was still expected to lead his side in the current campaign. So we did the interview. In fact we announced his departure 40 days before the club. I was proud of that and glad that Jim felt he could come forward. He spoke openly and listeners were given an insight to the ups and downs of a cricket career.”

Charlie says that pretty much everyone he has ever met and interviewed in cricket has been very polite and good value, but one disappointing experience was at Taunton when the touring Australians were holding a press conference. Brad Haddin was taking questions and Charlie took his place at the rear of the crowd of press people, with the representatives of national newspapers, TV and radio inevitably leading the questions. Charlie waited patiently with hand in the air when he was selected by the Cricket Australia press team to ask his question. When he introduced himself as being from BBC Somerset his opportunity was ruthlessly declined and the conversation moved to another press representative.

“It wouldn’t have taken much to give me one minute so I could ask Haddin what he thinks of Taunton, or (talk about) the great Australians who played here, like Waugh, Langer, Chappell. That was a bit annoying.”

But any negative thoughts about Cricket Australia would be forgotten when they offered Charlie the chance to host what he considers his biggest interview to date, which doubles up as the most surreal situation he has found himself in, and all in the name of work. This when he interviewed Somerset and Aussie legend Justin Langer.

“In April last year we knew Australia were coming for an ODI series. It was straight after the ball-tampering controversy and all that so they were front-page news with their captain being banned.

“I emailed Cricket Australia and said I would absolutely love to interview Justin Langer to talk Somerset and his memories of playing here. I tried a few times and heard absolutely nothing and the ODI’s had started – I think we were three matches in? – and Australia were being hammered by an insanely good England team. Then I got a reply from Cricket Australia to say they would do it. He wouldn’t be able to come to Taunton but we could do it over the phone. But – they said – he could only do it next Wednesday and I would have five minutes only.

“Now I had booked that day off as my girlfriend, who is a Primary School teacher near Swindon, wanted me to play Howard Carter for the kids who were learning about Egypt. So we got the costume sorted, and I was all dressed up with the tweed and moustache, and I had 7 and 8 year-old kids asking me about how I discovered Tutankhamun. That was in the morning.

“But I took some kit with me and drove onto Salisbury Plain where I could get a good signal, and managed to dial up Justin Langer dressed as Howard Carter in my car. My hand was shaking I was so nervous. I had tractor’s driving past me – which you can hear halfway through the interview.

“In the end I spoke with Justin for about 20 minutes and he said how he loved every minute playing for Somerset and then we inevitably talked about ball-tampering. Now he didn’t do this interview for the papers or TV, he only spoke (about ball-tampering) in press conferences. So I got the exclusive.

“So there I was dressed as an Egyptologist interviewing Justin Langer in my car in the middle of a field – I have never told anyone that before.”

Charlie’s talents and efforts are being acknowledged locally and nationally, with an abundance of award nominations flying in for the show and its host. Charlie and some colleagues recently attended the Sports Journalists Awards which offered a chance to mingle with some famous faces.  

“We had been there before as a couple of years ago we were nominated for our coverage of Yeovil Town Ladies so we knew what to expect. So we put these two entries in, but not expecting anything back, but were nominated for live coverage of sport, which was for the semi-final at Edgbaston last year, and factual feature which was for The Cricket Show as a whole. We were blown away.

“I interviewed Scyld Berry, who is Cricket Writer of the Year beating Michael Atherton, and I had a good chat with John Murray, the BBC Football correspondent, and he told us he prefers cricket to football and told us why he loves cricket so much. I remember listening to him talking about the World Cup from when I was a teenager. So there I was surrounded by all these legends – it was great. All these people that bring great sport to people’s houses, people who don’t have Sky, and that’s why I love radio so much because it’s available for everybody.

“We lost to TalkSport’s cricket coverage in Sri Lanka, and our little show was up against Five Live’s coverage of the (football) World Cup. That’s a big inspiration for me.”

On top of that the team at BBC Somerset were awarded silver in the BBC local radio awards and Charlie was commended for Journalist of the Year, an award he won the previous year.

“I say it was a typical Somerset year as we finished silver, were commended – but didn’t quite cross the line – like a bridesmaid year really.

“And what I love about is I put it on Twitter and Jack Brooks, our new signing, tweeted back ‘well done mate.’ Brilliant, that’s why I love cricket. Can you imagine Aguero doing that for his local radio station?”

For Charlie The Cricket Show and BBC commentaries enable him to bring together two of his great loves – radio and cricket.

“I love the internet – we have the podcasts and iPlayer and all that’s fantastic – but I think my generation are the last generation to truly love radio. Huddled under the covers listening to Champions League football, or setting the alarm for 4am to listen to the Ashes coverage. There is something about radio that I will always love and enjoy.

“And I am fascinated by the history of cricket – my poor girlfriend gets dragged along to any second-hand book shop or when they sell the books here at the museum. And I can look around for hours. Our flat has cricket books everywhere.”  

In his spare time Charlie manages to play for Axbridge CC. Not that he gets much time with his commitments to the BBC. And, as you would expect, he is highly ambitious for both himself and the show he presents.

“I am Somerset born and bred and love living here. A move to Manchester, where BBC Sport is based, would be a big lifestyle change and one that would take a lot of discussion as I am very happy here.

“But I would love to work for Test Match Special but still be based here in Somerset. It’s a big thing for me. I have done a few shadow shifts for the World Service, and commentated for other counties, but I would have to be sure I could be happy living elsewhere. If I want to work nationally I would have to make that call. But it’s tough.

“And, as for the show, I would love to win a national award – and I know it’s not all about awards as it’s mainly about coverage for Somerset CCC and getting the best stories and guests in – but we’ve had a year of near misses, so it would be nice to say we’re performing at a national level.

“But most of all I would love to host a Cricket Show special after Somerset have won the County Championship. That’s one show I would love to do more than anything. Hopefully this year. ”

The Cricket Show returns with its first show in the new season on Thursday 4th April, between 7-8pm. You can hear it on 95.5FM, DAB and 1566MW as well as www.bbc.co.uk/bbcsomerset