What’s it like working for EWTN?

“What’s it like working for EWTN?” “How do you work with them, as they are in the USA?” “What’s the next thing coming up?”  EWTN viewers are a family – they want to know what it’s like there in the kitchen, when they are enjoying the results around the table or settled in armchairs.

The first thing I have to explain is that of course some of the work is done in the USA, and some on location – most recently in Poland and Bavaria, working on features about Popes St John Paul II  and Benedict XVI respectively. But much of the work is done here in England.

TV work is only partly done in front of a camera – much of the real work, even for those of us who appear on-screen, is done on research projects at all sorts of places, and at desks and on telephones, in libraries and at meetings and conferences. The finished product doesn’t arrive simply as a result of standing in front of a camera and talking.

Colleague Clare Anderson and I began working on the feature about St John Paul some four years ago…and well before that we were reading voraciously about him, studying his life, discussing the ideas that later came to be a book and the TV feature.

In fact, I suppose it all really began way back in the 1980s , when I was an Army wife newly returned from Germany – my husband was serving with the armoured squadron in Berlin, in those now-vanished days of the Berlin Wall – and Clare the busy mother of four young children. We’d met via a Catholic women’s organisation – the excellent Women for Faith and Family, run by Helen Hull Hitchcock in the USA.  Helen – a wonderful person, now gone to her reward – gathered women around the globe to affirm support for the Church’s beautiful message on love, life, marriage and family. And through the contacts thus established, Clare and I got in touch, and found that we lived not very far from each other, a few miles out of London.

Thus began an intermittent friendship that developed over the years, as we’d meet occasionally for long talkative lunches and swapped ideas, books, news and opinions.  Clare wrote regularly for a small Catholic magazine I was editing, and was herself the editor of a Benedictine devotional magazine. As things developed, the idea came up of a joint venture – a book about beloved Pope John Paul. And things grew from there… and many hours and weeks and months of work later, we were in Krakow researching the people and places he had known…and then we were back a year later, making an EWTN feature about him with a wonderful and talented TV crew.

We came to love Krakow and to value the friendships we made. And it was a great honour to meet and interview Cardinal Dwicz, whose long years of faithful service to John Paul culminated in being at his side as the saint died while thousands and thousands of the young held vigil in St Peter’s Square and prayed together. It was also a privilege to meet people who had been students when Karol Wojtyla was an inspirational Archbishop of Krakow…and to pray in the churches he knew and at the shrines where he went on pilgrimage…

But all this happened against the backdrop of our busy family lives: our emails intersperse plans and ideas for the TV feature with discussions about bridesmaids’ dresses and family gatherings as Clare was busy with her daughter’ weddings. We swapped ideas and mutual support over worries about beloved elderly relatives. Most notably – and to general amusement – when we l got together with our spouses for a dinner party, our husbands found that they were distantly related:  while Clare and I were chatting over coffee, they devoured family history and old books about Scotland and worked out that they were cousins something-or-other times removed. And this continues as both have found out more about mutual ancestors in portraits and information about old Scottish houses.

“What’s it like working for EWTN?”  Fun, actually: hard work and full of unexpected things. Worrying sometimes – deadlines to meet, things to check. I haven’t even started to write about the adventures involved in my cookery features over the years. That’s another story: packing pastry-cutters and jars of home-made jam among my clothes in a suitcase, muddling through the different America/British measurements (what is a cup of butter, for goodness’ sake?), being marooned one unexpected snowstorm in an almost-empty EWTN in midwinter with a broken arm and being rescued by cheery friars…

EWTN is a family. More stories follow!

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