Leading BBC editor and director Jo McCusker shares a behind the scenes look at her award-winning career:
Josephine McCusker from Letterkenny picked up a prestigious Royal Television Society Award last weekend for a ground-breaking BBC sports documentary.
‘Alan Shearer: Dementia, Football & Me’ won Best Sports Programme at the RTS North West awards on Saturday.
The fascinating programme was directed by Jo McCusker, who has worked on up to 40 documentaries in her 27 years at the BBC.
As head of the documentary unit of BBC Sport, Jo presents an eye opening look into the world of elite sports people.
She is behind documentaries on iconic figures including Muhammed Ali and Andy Murray.
Broadcasting events such as the Olympics, the World Cup Football and live golf are just part of the job, she says.
Alan Shearer: Dementia, Football & Me is the first documentary led by Jo to win a Royal Television Society Award. Last weekend was a time to celebrate and honour this highly impactful piece of television.
The 2017 film saw cameras following former England international footballer Alan Shearer on a personal journey as he investigated the link between heading footballs and dementia.
“I think that was the strength in the programme, the fact that Alan went on his own journey,” Jo told Donegal Daily.
“We were with Alan all the time when he went to hospital and did all the scans. It was authentic.”
Jo’s work has been nominated for many other awards in the past, but to win is another kind of achievement, especially when the topic took the team out of their comfort zone.
She said: “So much work goes into a documentary, there’s a lot of trust that comes with them. You are trying to tell people’s stories and you are responsible to them.”
“Alan Shearer was different for us, because it was sports science and we were heading into territory that nobody has gone into before.
“It was very original, nobody had done a documentary or researched the link between brain damage and headers before. One of the problems we had was there was nothing to find out, because nothing had been done before.”
The documentary made a big impact in the world of sport and attracted high levels of press coverage on the issue.
I have been overwhelmed by the response to the documentary. It was emotionally draining at times but I'm very proud of what we produced. I couldn't have done it without the support of @MellyChaps #JoMcCusker @CarlDoranEFC @CameramanST @BBCOne and the whole team.
— Alan Shearer (@alanshearer) November 13, 2017
When it won the RTS award, Jo insisted that the entire production team went onstage to enjoy the moment.
She said: “We all went up onstage because, at the end of the day, everybody plays their part.
“I dedicated the award to all people affected by dementia and to Alan Shearer. If people hadn’t let us into their lives the documentary wouldn’t have happened.
“I would have loved to dedicate the award to my family too. They are my biggest fans and critics and have always been there for me.”
Jo originally trained as a PE teacher in Jordanstown and became a lecturer at Leeds University.
Her media career began in 1991 at BBC Leeds, where she learned the ropes in broadcasting and radio before her role developed to editorial and directorial.
She was the first female editor in the department and is now based in Manchester. She is the Assistant Editor in Sport, leads documentaries and always aims to direct at least one herself per year.
Gender equality in the industry is improving, she said.
“There are more women now in sport from when I started 27 years ago. That makes a difference.
“It’s getting better and there are usually three or four female colleagues at my level working together.
“We want to keep women coming into sport and progressing.”