Come on up and be a star;FE Focus;Commentary;Opinion

5th June 1998 at 01:00
Saturday night and we're off to the dance course production, Right on Spring. All set to go, I am flicking through the television channels in personality type A manner while I wait for my personality type B husband. Unless it's a shout and there is a big red fire engine waiting to be driven at high speed, he is impossible to hurry.

Up comes Whatever You Want and Gaby Roslin with three contestants whose lifetime ambition is to become firefighters. They are asked to collect little blue sponges in a bright red bucket and fling them at a kind of Aunt Sally contraption which we are told symbolises a fire in the Canadian Rockies. The winner will head off for advanced training with a Canadian fire crew and then join the team for three weeks of very dangerous living indeed.

There is a nice looking lad who is a former air steward, a girlie and a guy with glasses. The girlie, of course, comes last, and out on top comes the nice looking lad with perfect eyesight. Gaby tells us he has won the chance of a lifetime, and he waves his arms around wildly. A star is born. Later, someone else wins a trolley dash called Supermarket Sweep and looks really excited.

As we set off for the dance performance, I wonder why nobody ever offers the chance of a lifetime - a training course at Dundee College. Because it has got to sound glitzy and glamorous, my husband explains. A mad dash round Tesco's glitzy and glamorous? He ignores me. It has got to have human interest, trials and tribulations, he says. Fighting fires - well that's got everything, hasn't it? It's sexy television. I don't give in. We've got human interest. We've got trials and tribulations. What we don't have, I concede, is the ability to dress it all up in sexy clothes and sell it for all it's worth.

We are at the theatre by now and discover the performance starts later than we thought, so we are accidentally five minutes early. I warm to my theme. We have got all the right ingredients: comedy, tragedy, personal triumph andor disaster, and a cast of thousands.

Take Wednesday. As I walk along the corridor, I see a notice on the door of the gents' toilet: "Filming in progress. Please use toilet on sixth floor." A fly on the wall documentary?

There is filming going on everywhere as students complete end-of-session projects. Three of the HND communication students invade the workroom to interview staff for their promo on college courses. They complain that they have been hindered by people acting silly whenever they see a mike and a camera. One guy was really stupid, Joanna complains, jumping up and down and making monkey noises. OK, so maybe our assistant principal needs a little more training in handling the media, but we can still make prime time.

My social care class have become paranoid about their formal talks. Sandy is due to go first. She paces up and down, getting into her role as if it's Lady Macbeth. The tension is infectious and nobody is even breathing by this time.

You want high drama, careers on the line, dangerous moments? It is all here in room T907. Sandy does a brilliant talk, but can't chill out afterwards.

"That was great," she squeals in a way Gaby would love. "What a buzz. I'd love to do it all again." As the talks continue, they discover the heady seduction of wooing and winning an audience and will want to be lecturers very soon. "Can you all come back next week?" Gaby would ask in that winsome lip-glossed way of hers and everybody could wave their arms about frenetically.

At lunchtime, Jamie seeks advice about a playwriting competition. The rules demand bonded paper and double spacing. He can just about get away with the paper but not with his single-spaced typescript. He has been trained to produce scripts to professional standards, so what is he playing at? Saving trees, it turns out, and he wrestles with his conscience in a Pinterish monologue. Now there's a great hook. Will Jamie redo his script or will he forgo his chance of being a writer? Tune in next week folks.

See what I mean? The problem is, we can't get the packaging right. As our PR folks complained, get a really good college story ready for the press and what happens? Sinatra goes and dies. We can learn a lot from Whatever You Want. When third-year pupils from our local schools arrived for "A Day In the Life Of", a chance to sample life at college, I welcomed them, helped them choose from a list of options and they joined our normal classes.

Digital media, film, oral presentation, radio broadcasting and desktop publishing were the most popular choices. We met again to discuss their day, and to allow them to fill in their evaluations. They were polite and quietly appreciative, but it's hardly hold-on-a-minute-I'm-so-excited-I-might-just-burst-a-blood-vessel. Competent, yes. Businesslike, yes. Just not the stuff that dreams are made of.

At the end of the show, the theatre arts students who have come along to lend their mates moral support cheer and whistle, stamp their feet and give the dancers a standing ovation. They have got the right idea. What we need is hype. Whatever you want, we've got. And we're brilliant. We've just got to stop keeping it all such a deadly secret.

Dr Carol Gow is a lecturer in mediacommunication at Dundee College.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today