This week I spoke to journalist, Oscar Beardmore-Gray about the secret to interviewing athletes, the phenomenon known as K Cider, and his podcast, Taking Hugh for Granted.
A fervent reader from a young age, Oscar’s path to journalism was rather linear when he made the decision to pursue it in university. At the University of Bristol, Oscar took advantage of several opportunities, becoming the sports editor of the university paper, and a writer for The Tab, an independent student publication. While it may appear that this would play second fiddle to his other work, Oscar continues to receive recognition for an article he wrote for The Tab titled, “Why K Cider Will Change Your Life“. Now, K Cider is not a product that I was familiar with, but Oscar describes it as “the most foul drink ever,” and a staple for UK university students looking to maximize their return on dollars to drunk. Wherever you are from, you know what that drink is for you (looking at you, Alberta Pure). Oscar didn’t think much of this satirical piece at the time, but its message quickly struck a chord with readers and topped 100,000 views in only a few months. Thanks to the sustained regional notoriety of K Cider, the article has continued to circulate at The Tab to this day, generating publicity for not only Oscar’s early writing, but also himself, as a photo of Oscar holding a freshly cracked can graces the cover of the piece.
CBC and the Vancouver Whitecaps
Following his studies in the UK, Oscar was successfully accepted into the two-year Master of Journalism program at The University of British Columbia. He shares that while he was nervous to move such a long distance from home, he was incredibly excited for the mandatory eight-week internship inherent to the program. For his internship, he worked at CBC’s London, UK bureau, ironically travelling back home to continue his Canadian education. Going home did have some advantages for Oscar; due to his familiarity with the area “it didn’t feel too intimidating,” to jump right in, whereas other members of his class were thrust into much more foreign environments. Oscar shares that this experience was invaluable to his growth as a journalist, and that “you definitely learn more in six weeks inside a newsroom, than you do in six months studying journalism”.
Another involvement Oscar took on during his Master’s program was working in the communications department of the Vancouver Whitecaps. A longtime sports fan, Oscar says that “I was lucky to basically join the club on the biggest week in our history,” when the Whitecaps sold homegrown star Alphonso Davies to Bayern Munich. Assisting with the fanfare and celebrations of Davies’ final games was an exciting time, and certainly an effective foil to his more traditional journalism work with the CBC. As a sports fan myself, I had to ask Oscar what it was like to interview athletes, given the well-documented history of statements given under duress of both stress and dehydration. Oscar simply said that “you learn from experience not to get as flustered,” by one-word answers, especially when competing for time with a sea of other media personnel. Taking a player aside to talk to them in a more casual manner usually yielded better results, but he concedes that this was not always a common occurence.
Expanding on the best practices of interviewing, Oscar shared a story he wrote while in China working for NBC. At the core of this story was the worldwide contradictory practice of catching wild fish, only to turn them into feed for farmed fish that will yield a higher price. Being a foreign investigative journalist in China during the week of the Huawei scandal was just cause for anxiety, but these circumstances also gave Oscar a crash course in extracting information that people may not be apt to give up. He credits the local journalism students he was working with for helping him overcome the language barrier, and says that this experience taught him that “keeping a good relationship with people is really important,” but at the end of the day, a journalist’s job is to get the story.
Oscar’s current role is with the Global Reporting Centre based out of UBC, where he has worked on projects including the positive effect of medical cannabis on the opioid crisis, as well as the process in which conflict zones around the world transition towards peace. In this role, Oscar is “a producer with a very broad brushstroke,” contributing to both written and video work. I asked Oscar about the differences between producing journalism in various mediums, and he said that while written work is still “the bread and butter” of journalism, video “can be a more creative way of telling stories,” and truly capturing emotion. Gaining more experience in video journalism has also sparked an interest in more longform documentary work, a subject in which he hopes to explore further in the future. Oscar feels that this style allows him to spend more time with the material and dive deeper into the story, whereas print work is often contingent on much tighter deadlines.
Taking Hugh for Granted
Outside of his professional work, Oscar also hosts a biweekly podcast with his friend, Diggory Waite, titled Taking Hugh for Granted. Holding the accolade of “the internet’s number 1 (and only) Hugh Grant podcast,” each episode Oscar and Diggory explore a different film, television show, or other important moment from the canon of Hugh Grant’s acting career. Having played so many similar characters over the course of his career, Hugh Grant is described by Oscar as somewhat of a “comic villain” and a fitting divisive figure to serve as the backbone of the podcast. Diggory and Oscar met in university, and hosted several student radio shows while at The University of Bristol. Like all impactful pieces of art, the conception of Taking Hugh for Granted was birthed at a music festival, Glastonbury Festival to be specific. It started as just a funny name for a show, but eventually they decided to mobilize their efforts and dive into podcasting. They didn’t want to join the online glut of hapharzardly produced podcasts, so six months were spent polishing their product, creating the artwork, recording, and editing the inaugural episodes down into a show that they were satisfied with. Oscar and Diggory knew that they were reliant on somewhat of a niche audience, but they were also confident that an audience was there, citing that “the amount of people tweeting and instagramming every day about Hugh Grant’s hair in the 1980s is remarkable”. Taking Hugh for Granted has reached listeners in over sixty countries and at the time of writing, is approaching ten-thousand downloads; I think its safe to say that they have found their fan-base.
One notable fan of the podcast is Mary, a woman living in the Midwest of the United States, and a true “Hugh Grant fanatic”. Having latched onto the podcast quite early, Mary was invited to be a guest on episode ten for a question and answer segment. Oscar describes her as “our first super-fan,” and a joy to speak with on the show. In many ways, meeting Mary was also gratification for all the time that went into getting Taking Hugh For Granted off the ground, and a feeling that “we’ve actually tapped into our target audience”.
With Diggory living in the UK, and Oscar now based in Vancouver, their workflow was relatively unaffected by COVID-19. They have continued to put a lot of work into the podcast, writing new jingles, keeping up a strong presence on social media, and adding an adaptive segment titled “Hugh’s News” in response to any unscheduled Hugh Grant content. Seemingly, the most imminent threat to their success is the simple fact that while prolific, Hugh Grant’s filmography will eventually reach its end. When I posed this inevitability to Oscar, he shared that while there have been discussions of shifting the spotlight in the future from Hugh Grant to Colin Firth, he also admits that this could “be a little bit blasphemous,” to abandon their star. However, he also expressed gratitude that they have made it this far and that they owe all of their success to their fans. As long as their listeners continue to enjoy it, “we’ll continue making them until we run out and then we’ll, I guess, cross that bridge when we come to it”.
Until that day comes, keep up with Taking Hugh For Granted on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Twitter, and Instagram. They are coming up on their one-year anniversary, and have a great backlog of episodes to check out.
And don’t forget to check out last week’s interview with motion graphics designer, Cory Ransom.