BEHIND THE MIC – Christine Clifton-Psaila

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Stumbling aimlessly in the dark at the unearthly hour of 5.30 am in search of any number of alarm clocks buzzing and ringing – supposedly strategically placed across the bedroom – is now no more for Chris, even though she loved her job…

That’s been the scenario, Chris informs me, presenting those early morning programmes for over the past 20 years or so of her close on 40 years as a broadcaster on GBC’s Radio Gibraltar, joining the local station in September 1977… “It’s quite true you know as I’d awaken, I would often have trouble trying to remember where I’d put the two or three alarm clocks needed to make sure I got out of bed in time to get up to Broadcasting House in South Barrack Road and go on air promptly at 7am. The car wouldn’t start one morning and I got a lift in an ambulance – not on an emergency – and on another occasion I had to climb through a window to get into the station because of someone locking the door from the inside. That’s what could happen being so early in the morning with no one around. It was up early five days a week but I enjoyed it tremendously.” We often say a job like this is a vocation and it’s the love for the job that becomes that vocation. But it could well have been Covent Garden in London if Chris had followed her other passion – ballet! Attending the Drevyn Frost Ballet School here, in Gibraltar, she seriously wanted to become a ballerina but it was not to be and with a closed border, she opted to fly off to the UK to pastures new, “I worked for two years in an international company in Mayfair in London but the rat race got the better of me and decided to come back to Gib.” Sister Susan Clifton had already experienced reading the news on GBC TV whilst still at school and dad, Raymond Clifton, was already working at GBC as an engineer, “Well, not knowing what to do on my return, I applied for a job at GBC, probably subconsciously influenced by the fact my dad and sister were there already.” Having worked for GBC myself, I remember that after a bit of training, it was just a question of learning on the job and we all took the plunge although we later attended radio production courses at the BBC in London. “That’s right, but the station at Wellington Front was really basic with most, if not all of the equipment we used hand made by my dad and Gordon Black who was also an engineer. It was all pretty primitive, all we had was a small ‘live’ studio, another recording studio and a record library which also served as a guest and rest room and where anyone there had to leave or be very quiet because from that room, we also read the news!”

Chris recalls how she had to play radio adverts or commercials individually on reel to reel tape recorders which meant getting up from your ‘mic’ desk to change the tapes every 30 seconds or so and at Christmas, it was a continuous task, “The studios at Wellington Front and the time spent there were special days. We’d have to switch the transmitters on first thing in the morning and fiddle with crackly receivers to find the right frequencies for the BBC World Service news and prepare your vinyl records – of your own choice then – interviews, set it all up and get ready to go on air. I also recall the varied programmes we were tasked with. It could be an hour’s worth of Country music, Jazz, Big Bands, classical or some other programme that would be played in the evenings whether or not you specialised in any of those types of music or subjects. You just did it!” To contrast that, things are more specialised these days depending on the genre, it’s all computer driven and everything is digital except your voice, of course, giving you more time to prepare your programme.

Christine at Broadcasting House in the early 80s

Come the early 80s, Radio Gibraltar joined GBC Television at their new studios in South Barrack Road and has since seen quite a few changes and updates in equipment, studios and personnel and Chris’s retirement marked the end of the full time ‘old guard’ presenters from the bygone Wellington Front era… “That’s right I’m the last one, but most of my career has been spent up at Broadcasting House in South Barrack Road and I consider myself very privileged to have had this job on radio meeting the different personalities and others you interview and colleagues who have become friends at the station. You meet quite a variety of personalities and individuals in this job, especially working in a small community where you’re called upon to interview politicians from here and abroad, actors, musicians, singers, writers and all sorts. Personalities like actors John Mills and James Bond, Timothy Dalton – who gave me a hard time – dolphins’ expert, Horace Dobbs, musician Jose Feliciano, any number of authors and so many other visitors from abroad. Locally, I must’ve interviewed all of our politicians – and had the odd spat with one or two of them – local artists and performers and so many other people who just have a hobby or an experience to tell you about making for an interesting interview to share with our listeners. I once interviewed a priest sitting on the Bishop’s bed and even when travelling to the UK on holiday, I’ve returned with an interview or two. One on the newly constructed, very tall Shard tower in London and the WW2 Cabinet War Rooms was another but the love for the job just makes you want to do it even on holiday or wherever you are.”

During her time at GBC, newly retired Christine Clifton Psaila has spent the better part of 20 years as a presenter/journalist on the early morning Focus AM and Breakfast programmes, as well as presenting other daytime music based ‘strip’ shows, probably not knowing how many individuals she has actually interviewed during those four decades! Working in a small, local radio and television station, ‘Jack of all Trades’ comes to mind and most radio presenters are asked to present television programmes and/or anchor the nightly news… “Yes, I’ve dabbled in one or two programmes presenting short series and recorded news interviews but I never felt comfortable doing television and decided not to do any more and stick to radio which is what I like and feel much more relaxed doing. TV is not for me.”

Christine and Joe with their children, Jeremy and Gabriella

2017 has well and truly dawned and has she so far kept to those ‘New Year’ resolutions? “Those are not for me, you can decide to do or not to do something at any time but this really is a brand new start for me. I may be getting withdrawal symptoms soon having been this involved in broadcasting for so long. It’s time to relax and take it all in for a while. I was completely overwhelmed by the send-off my colleagues gave me at GBC and equally overwhelmed by comments on the street and social media. I find it very gratifying and am grateful. It is incredible how people identify with you and you don’t realise it.” Chris tells me she’d like to travel, husband Joe retired from GBC seven years ago and has been patiently waiting so what better month than February to go on a trip to Venice, Paris or Rome! Chris says she would also like to do some charity work and maybe write a bit. What about radio or even TV work, on a part time basis? “Yes, perhaps later on.”

words | Richard Cartwright