I first met Nigel Acheson when I joined the ’Talks and Doc. Unit’ at the BBC. In 1998 I joined his company Loftus Productions Ltd. He taught me a lot about radio and life. Nigel died on 28th March 2008.


Nigel smiling at a joke told by Richard Bannerman (to the right) at Nigel’s leaving do.


Below is a valediction which I wrote and was read by Alastair Glover at Nigel’s cremation.

‘Nigel was an artist and his medium was radio. To become as good at it as Nigel was your ears have to become accustomed to the dark.

A good producer must be a good listener, which we all know Nigel was. But producers have to make it worthwhile for their interviewee to deliver the goods -- for the contributor to perform and more importantly, to tell it how it was. That is done, typically, by being good company and Nigel was the best of company which is why I will miss him so much. To be good company you have to be good talker which Nigel was, of course. He had a Nigelian take on this world, a world which can be, more often than we would like, as we are reminded of today… absurd.

Nigel once told me that when he was about nine he stood in his father's huge chicken shed on the farm. Illuminated only by artificial light, with hundreds of chicks scurrying at his feet, he lifted one up - held in his hand. "It was small and fluffy. I suddenly felt different. I realised I wasn't the same as the others".

He was talking about many things. But coming back to radio I think it's important producers should feel different -- neither better nor worse, only different. They shouldn't fit in. It's not enough to have a take on life, it has to be original. A big part of Nigel, despite appearances, was about not fitting in. But, typical Nigel, he didn't make a big thing about it.

Nigel could have been a great writer - he certainly could observe and distill, spotlighting the telling, sometimes minute details of a strange event, but always with a point. I would love to get him to tell the story back to me of this day. And if there is an Underworld I would like to hear Nigel’s take on that river, the weird ferryman they have down there (is he a good talker?), and the creature that guards the gates, the terrifying three headed dog Cerberus – is he as fierce as Frank?

I knew Nigel for almost 20 years and can’t remember a single instant when he bored me. But he was not only an observer, he was a participant. I think of him as the perfect uncle, someone who cared deeply and was willing to intervene for us all. He hated it when people fell out with each other. He gave advice diplomatically and was wise. People who only worked with Nigel once became long term friends. He had the gift of making friends and was a devoted family man. He loved family and Loftus was a family he created out of thin air but as real to us as any other family, at times even more real.

Nigel was interested in outsiders and how they negotiated an existence with the rest of us. The hallmark of his programmes was a lovely dry wit which always came through. His programmes were always beautiful because he could do it, he could do beauty. As the poet Keats said you can't have truth without beauty - and vice versa. His programmes had a peculiar magic: at first you would notice nothing except riveting storytelling, then without knowing quite how it was done, the listener would realize, to their surprise, this programme was floating about a foot above the ground. Like the feeling you have after reading a short story by Chekov or Borges.

Nigel admitted to me, latterly, that despite decades of experience, he found editing interviews was getting, if anything, more difficult. It’s a hard, cruel business this inevitable elimination - a kind of death - as words and events hit the cutting room floor never to be heard again. Every cut reduced Nigel’s options for telling another, possibly better, story. Radio programmes are not jigsaw puzzles depicting a painted scene, but a series of doors, invitations from one version of life to another, different one.

Accolades, international awards, a degree of fame, all were heaped upon Nigel. But I believe he got more pleasure out of a nifty juxtaposition or a single cross-fade between a Polish taxidriver and an extract of Smetena than any of those brassy statues. He tended to look ahead anyway.

We often talked of the technicalities of storytelling, the snares of narrative. Nigel said one thing that really bothered him about dying was not knowing how other people's lives would turn out. Simon, Joe, Rachel -- their lives would go on, the narrative would go on, but he would not share with them tales of their adventures.

I would at this point just like to publicly thank Fernando – I , and I think every single person present here, have not for a moment worried that Nigel was not getting the very best of care during these incredibly difficult months and days. Nigel was proud of you. He basked in your love, it sustained him, it kept him going, it gave meaning to him. Thanks Fernando.

In the little cosy room upstairs in Loftus I listened with Nigel to a reading of the words of the monk and historian, The Venerable Bede. Bede compared life
‘to a bird blown from a windy, stormy night into the warmth and conviviality of a vast dining hall and then blown back out into the wintry dark again.’ Nothing needed to be said.

Towards the end many people have remarked to me, and I noticed it myself, that there was a palpable aura surrounding Nigel. Some said it was a force like a strength, others said he was a rock, some said it was a calm. I personally believe that aura was the realisation that with his foreshortened future he would be better off to live in and savour the present moment. He'd become the world's ultimate listener.

Funny how I never noticed that Nigel had always had that aura, but typical Nigel, he'd kept it hidden. It was revealed to me through his radio programmes.


Radio is a medium of the darkness but Nigel shone, brilliant and true, out of that dark.’

end



Nigel photographed in Rio by Fernando on their last holiday there.