Anne Davies and Dominic Heale: the East Midlands Today presenters who enjoy their job immensely
They’ve been fixtures in the living rooms of thousands of homes in the East Midlands for 15 years. Anne Davies and Dominic Heale have such a rapport that some people actually think the BBC East Midlands Today presenters are married to each other.
Bosses at BBC Television in Nottingham have come and gone, yet Anne and Dom have remained in their studio seats no matter how many changes the managers have introduced.
The presenters took time out from preparing for an edition of the East Midlands’ favourite news magazine programme to tell me the secret of their success, how much involvement they have in the show and why they do so much more than reading out loud for a living.
There’s a saying that couples who’ve been married for a long time are so in sync that they finish each other’s sentences. Anne and Dom are the same, often discussing their answers to my questions and chipping in when the other occasionally starts to flounder.
Dominic was working for Central Television when the BBC came calling. “As Jane Horrocks said in Ab Fab, I was headshrunk by the BBC,” he says.
At the time Anne was working for GMTV and getting up at 3am which she describes as “weird”.
“I did it for eight years. It’s debilitating, actually. You have to have a system. It really works for some people like Penny Smith because she manages her life – she’s always done it. But I’m possibly less self-disciplined, so I swapped three in the morning for three in the afternoon. It seemed like a good swap to me.”
Dom believes he and Anne were meant to work together: “There’s a nice synchronicity about it which was meant to happen because we were both very happy to slot in here, weren’t we?”
There is a particular skill to being able to sit in front of a camera in a brightly lit room and explain to people what is happening in your area or the wider world. Dom pays tribute to the professional job Anne did at GMTV.
“You made it look like you were buzzing, you were awake, having fun – that’s the real skill of it, isn’t it?
“I remember being a bit horrified when somebody described news presentation as a performance. But in fact it is because you don’t go on television and speak as we’re speaking now: you project, you enunciate, you inject a bit of drama, a bit of urgency, you’re a bit shouty sometimes.”
“NO, SURELY NOT!” Anne interjects loudly.
“On the whole we say things as they are. I think news often falls down in the regions when people put on a very serious news voice and people just don’t buy it,” she feels.
“With our programme what you see is what you get, and we’re not particularly different in the office or at home from the way we are on TV. You have to rein certain things in – we can’t laugh hysterically at things we would do normally.”
Dom recalls the mini-revolution at the BBC at about the time they joined. “The BBC wanted to get away from over-analysing and doing everything very straight and very serious. The BBC (in Nottingham) was obsessed with local government reorganisation and had a correspondent whose job it was to bring us the latest news on that. I’m sorry but it wasn’t good television.”
Anne adds: “And so nobody watched.”
Viewers are watching now. An estimated 200,000 people tune in each evening to see two people who enjoy their job immensely, thanks mainly to their personalities as well as their experience.
Dom who comes from Devon began his career in radio in Plymouth. He moved to ITV in 1989 as a sub-editor for Television South West, becoming a presenter within two years. When TSW lost its franchise Dom moved to Nottingham with his wife and three children.
Anne was born in Sutton, Surrey. Her first media job was working behind the scenes on Question Time, Panorama and The Money Programme. She then moved to BBC Radio Leicester and Radio Derby. After a year on the ITV news trainee scheme she became a regular newsreader for Central News East in Nottingham before moving to GMTV. She lives in Leicestershire and has two grown-up sons.
Anne is known for her choice of clothing – she says her clothes are like Marmite: you either love or hate them – and for presenting the East Midlands strand of Children in Need every autumn.
Both Anne and Dom are hugely involved in East Midlands Today. The days when presenters arrived shortly before a programme, did a show and left immediately afterwards disappeared many years ago.
During the first part of the day the presenters might have been on location reporting for a future programme or presenting the lunchtime bulletin. Each of them will also present the late bulletin two evenings a week.
Preparation for East Midlands Today starts in earnest with a 3pm meeting, with the producer outlining which stories will be covered and how they will be treated.
“It’s a bit of a rush through,” says Anne, although Dom points out that there is a strong structure: “I was saying to someone the other day I could write my timetable and they would know exactly to within a five-minute slot what I’d be doing between three in the afternoon and seven o’clock.”
Their responsibilities include writing headlines, checking the introductions to reporters’ stories, recording the main headlines sequence and conducting pre-recorded interviews. They also choose what clothes they will wear and apply their own make-up; there are no make-up artists in regional television these days.
“Although the stories are very different and no one programme is ever the same, the actual process of getting on air is exactly the same every day,” Dom points out.
Outside broadcasts can be completely different, according to Anne: “You can find yourself writing headlines on a park bench and trying to stick bits of script on the back of cards. You’re very good at sticking to timetable, aren’t you, Dom? I’m rubbish – I can be deflected at a moment’s notice and can find myself in a very interesting conversation in the kitchen and then realise I have to run into the studio.”
Dom points out that there’s a large team working behind the scenes and everyone wants to broadcast an entertaining, error-free programme.
“It’s our job to oil the cogs when they’re grinding to make it look like nothing’s going wrong.”
They also have to continue reading and appear in control when the director or a broadcast assistant is telling them that the next item isn’t ready or an interview has gone on too long.
“That’s the point I try to make when people make criticisms that all you do is read out loud,” says Dom. “Yes, that is what we do but people can’t hear what we hear in our earpieces. And you’ve got a bright light shining in your face.”
Anne explains more about their role: “It’s about someone you’re quite familiar with telling you something. It’s crafted but it shouldn’t sound like that.
“So if you wouldn’t say it to your mum when you’re telling her, don’t say it like that on the television because it just sounds false. It’s that falseness that I hope we’re really doing away with because I don’t think it works.”
Dom agrees: “In the end we’re the viewer’s friend. If we don’t ask the questions the viewers want to ask, we’ve failed.”
Let’s return to the perception that some viewers believe the couple are married. Dom points out that they spend longer together working on a programme than they do with their partners. And he believes viewers look for signs to try to gauge what their relationship is really like.
He looks at Anne and says, “They think you’re huge fun to work with but quite hard to tie down. They think I’m the quiet man and you’re the louder woman! I don’t know how they possibly get that.”
Anne becomes serious again and says both are very happy at East Midlands Today. “I’ll say to Dom sometimes ‘I’m just hanging on by my fingernails today – I don’t know why; my brain has fallen somewhere out of the back of my head’ and we know that the programme will never fall off air because the other person is always there.”
So what’s Dominic like to work with? “Fabulous,” says Anne, predictably. And what’s Anne like to work with? “She’s lovely,” says Dom.
Anne jumps in: “People say ‘how do you and Dominic get on?’ and I say we get on really well – Dom just finds me mildly annoying quite a lot of the time.”
In 2012 Anne won a Royal Television Society award for best on-screen personality.
“And, bless her, when she got up to go and collect the award she gave me a hug first and said ‘thank you, Dominic, I know you find me really annoying’,” he says before dissolving into laughter.
A typical East Midlands Today programme might feature crime, politics and tragedy. But many people look forward to the “and finally” for a bit of a laugh.
“It’s the maddest, most unscripted part of the programme. It’s where we make the most clangers and where we’re the most natural, I suppose,” says Dom.
Addressing Anne, he adds: “I have this ability to be able to raise one eyebrow independently of the other and I find myself raising an eyebrow a lot at the end. So without even saying anything I seem to have this reputation of being someone who finds you strange.” Anne gives him a knowing look.
Watching East Midlands Today may never be the same again.
* This article appeared in the October 2016 edition of Country Images magazine