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The generation game

Sunday, February 12th, 2012

From the Evening Standard:

Jon, Dan and Peter Snow

Growing up as a Snow, a Suchet or a Fox, who could resist following in the family footsteps? Five London dynasties talk to Hannah Nathanson about working with their nearest and dearest

Dan Snow, 32
I grew up thinking that everyone’s dad was on telly. As early as I can remember I used to say goodnight to my dad on television when he was doing Newsnight. Both Dad and his cousin Jon are very good at treating young people like adults. If you wanted to talk to them, you had to talk about what they were interested in, which was politics. I remember when I was five they asked me what I thought about Margaret Thatcher and the coalmining strikes, and Dad would take me to demonstrations in London and the House of Commons in session so I got the bug quite early on. Being in front of a camera in our family was quite normal. We always did piece-to-cameras for our family videos. It was what he and Mum, who works for Canadian news channel CBC, did for a living.

There are loads of fun anecdotes from working with Dad. We were sailing dinghies to show how the Spanish Armada was defeated by the English and the boom kept crashing into him. I am constantly looking after Dad because he refuses to listen to what anybody else says; when the crew are setting, he’ll be wandering through a minefield to see if there’s a better angle. You can always tell when Jon was in the house because he and Dad start yelling at each other. Jon loves huge bold statements and Dad likes interviewing him and knocking him down. Dad and I have a habit of arguing even when we agree with each other. We always know what we’re going to say next so I’ll be about to say something and he’ll say, ‘Can I just remind you…’ and I’ll say, ‘I know what you’re about to say and you don’t have to say that.’ It’s never personal: we disagree about things like how many First World War casualties there were on a battlefield.

Jon Snow, 63
I enjoy watching Peter and Dan on television now, it’s a very clever format because they are exactly as they are in real life- that’s what I’ve had to live with. Dan is a generational leader. He stands apart, not just because of his height but he’s a great historian. Peter and I might represent a work in progress but Dan is it, he’s the bee’s knees. There’s something that he’s got that neither of us have. I think it’s clarity and boundless integrity. When ITN offered me a job in the 1970s I refused initially. I didn’t want to work at the same station as Peter because it would have been hopeless; I mean the Dimblebys have tried that. But within a few months the editor sent me a note saying, ‘Just send me a paragraph saying you’ll work for us and the job is yours’ so I went there as a reporter in 1975. Peter was a formidable force in news reporting way before I went into it. We only got a television when I was 15 because Peter was reading the news on it. He had fantastic focus and was a very clear reporter. We argued like donkeys, especially about politics. He thought I was a complete extremist and I thought he was an old fuddy-duddy, but he was always right. He always had reason on his side and I always had emotion on my side.

Peter Snow, 73
Whenever I’ve had a career change I’ve asked my son Dan for his opinion first. He has a very decisive judgement and it’s always right. We first started working together when I was finishing on Tomorrow’s World. Dan was at Oxford University and got into the rowing 1st VIII; someone noticed him doing a recording about how to row a boat and came to me saying that he’d be rather good on the telly and why don’t we work together. ‘You must be joking!’ I said but they still wanted to try it, so we did a programme on the Battle of El Alamein in 2002 where Dan told the story of the man on the front line and I explained the strategy. It worked very well telling a dual story like that. People used to come up to me and say, ‘Are you Peter Snow?’ Now they come up to me and say, ‘Are you Dan Snow’s father?’ It’s quite fun. I’m immensely proud of the guy.

Jon is a superb journalist. He immediately established himself as someone with a great curiosity and a drive to find out what was really going on- rather like me, except he has the advantage of being ten years younger. When I joined ITN in 1962 I really wanted to be a trainee director and get into drama, but within a week of writing news stories I became a journalist and there was no looking back. Jon and I have both covered election nights at the same time. It’s been great fun watching the recording of Jon doing his bit afterwards. We’ve had slightly different roles: he has been the anchor, the Dimbleby figure of ITN, and I’ve explained the facts and figures. I didn’t give Jon a leg up into the industry, I simply told him who to ring. He found his way into radio and then television on his own merits. Within minutes of Jon broadcasting on LBC, my news editor said to me, ‘That Snow, is he related to you? How do I get hold of him?’ I gave him the number and Jon came to ITN.

The rest of the article is about other families and not included here.