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Susan Bookbinder

by: Leslie Bunder - Last updated: 2003-10-29

Radio presenter Susan Bookbinder

Susan Bookbinder

When it comes to top Jewish voices on the radio, they don't come any better than Radio Five Live's Susan Bookbinder. In an excusive SJ interview, Susan reveals how she got started in her career, her love for bagels and her quest for kosher curry.

1. How did you first get into journalism and who gave you your first break?
My parents were active in politics - Anti Apartheid and the Labour movement, taking in some ANC exiles from South Africa among many other acts of kindness and principle of which I was so proud.  Our house was always a hive of activity and when my father became high profile in the Labour Party, I would often accompany him to do interviews with journalists at the local radio or TV stations.  It was those visits which inspired me to go into journalism myself.  I got involved in a youth scheme at BBC Radio Derby and from there went on to the London College of Printing to take a CNAA Post Grad Diploma in Radio Journalism.  My first job was at BBC Radio Manchester and the first story I was sent to cover was about the steeplejack, Fred Dibner rescuing a cat from the chimney of a disused dark satanic mill!

2. Where does your interest in sport come from, is it family?
My grandfather, Percy Bookbinder started the family allegience to Manchester City, my father took me to my first match at the age of two, my brother John was an apprentice for City and was part of the celebrated FA Youth Cup winning team of 1985.  So I have been brought up with football all around me and Man City is quite simply a way of life -it's in the blood!  My Grandad was born on a Polish ship in Russian waters after his family fled the pograms and first set foot in Manchester.

3. If you weren't involved in sports journalism what do you think you would be doing?
Selling programmes at the City of Manchester stadium!  However, I have always wanted to write and still dream of becoming an author.

4. Do you ever get mini guilt trips if and when you have to cover something on Saturday or on a Jewish festival?
A life time of following City on Saturdays is hard work, but I don't feel guilty about that, I see it as paying homage. However my work ethic is stronger than my guilt complex - so I manage!

5. How important is your Jewish identity to you and to what extent do you express it?
I have a strong sense of  injustice  and cannot stand by and watch if someone is being victimised. It makes me think of bags of sugar and the SS. The Nazis used to give bags of sugar to people who grassed up their neighbours who were Jews or who were hiding Jews from the SS.

Apart from that I cannot string a sentence together without shrugging and gesturing, I love big gold earings, gold lipstick, gold handbags and shoes and I drive my father and loved ones up the wall by forcing them to eat healthy food and take enormous quantities of vitamin pills!

6. You are currently best known for radio work, but what about TV and print? Any plans or ambitions?
I have done more telly than radio (Granada in Liverpool, where I covered the Toxteth riots; went undercover as a cleaner to expose the death of a patient in a dirty hospital for LWT; covered the first Gulf War for ITN from the UK doing live standups outside number ten.
I also covered the revolution in Berlin when the wall came down first hand for LWT's national documentary programme Eyewitness.

I was North of England Correspondent for GMTV covering the IRA bombs of Warrington and Manchester and the murder of Jamie Bulger but when my mother was diagnosed terminally ill with cancer, I left GMTV to be with her in what were to be her last months. 

I don't regret the decision for a single minute, but when I came back to work, I decided I had had my fill of reporting and got my break as a newsreader at Talk Radio,  where I was the first woman to read the classified football results on British radio - then came the call from Five Live. Now, I co-present Sport on Five Mon-Fri with Jonathan Pearce, who is a pleasure to work with; it's billed as Five Live's flagship soccer programme and aims to be the premier football show in the country.

7. Who has been your best interview to date and also what has been the best event you have had to cover?
Mike Summerbee for our documentary on  the last game ever at Maine Rd.. apart from the fact that he was my childhood hero, he said "are you a real Bookbinder or have you married into the great family?"  I told him that I was kosher and he said he used to go out with my second cousin, Elaine Bookbinder - aka Elkie Brookes

8. Aside from sport what else interests you?
China. I have been there six times and love the culture, the art, the clothes and most of all the people. They have been persecuted by just about everyone - including their own people - and the dignity with which they bear it reminds me of the suffering of generations of Jews.

9. Are you a traditional Jewish eater of chopped liver and chicken soup or not?
My grandfather founded the Jewish Bakers Union  and worked in the family's bakery in Salford, so I know a good bagel when I see one. I also love chopped herring, latkes and cheesecake. 

Wherever I go in the world, I love to check out the bagels. The best so far was Montreal, they dip them in honey and then roll them in sesame seeds - pure bliss!! 

My father has actually discovered bagels in Beijing, I have sampled them myself - delicious!  Apart from bagels, my favourite food is curry and among my ambitions is to find the kosher curry house in New York discovered by dad's friend Rabbi Joe Tovey!

10. Last time you went to synagogue and for what occasion?
Does regular pilgrimages to the Bagel shop in Brick Lane on a Sunday morning with my Dad count?  The occasion? Celebration of a London win for City!