God in the Life Of BAFTA winning entertainment expert Justin Scroggie

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WHEN he graduated, Justin Scroggie had no idea what he wanted to do. Now he tells Jo Duckles about his life in television.

Justin offers me a cappuccino in the vicarage he shares with his wife, the Revd Felicity Scroggie, and their three cats in Kidlington, Oxfordshire. I caught up with him between the travels that have seen him visit Seoul, Cannes, Belfast, Capetown, Johannesburg, Toronto and Mumbai in the last six months alone. He tells me how, as he was coming to the end of his theology degree at Keble College, Oxford his dad wrote to him, expecting him to be thinking about his future career. He had studied theology as he saw it as an exciting alternative to English, offering a broader range of ways of analysing the core text, the Bible, through the lenses of different movements from the time the scriptures were first recorded, up to the present day. His international work has continued to inform and broaden his understanding of cultures and faiths.

Justin at home in Kidlington with his Bafta award. Photo: Jo Duckles.

Justin at home in Kidlington with his Bafta award. Photo: Jo Duckles.

Current projects include a cooking competition he devised, in production in Toronto and Montreal, talent search for electronic dance music DJs in Africa and a video games magazine programme in Uganda as well as a teen spy show in Toronto. “I have a window into different countries. In Mongolia, we built a new TV station from scratch, and in our new daily live breakfast show we planned an item on weddings on a budget, but there is one Buddhist wedding temple and they do all of the catering. Weddings cost the same there. I’ve done a lot of work with secular Jews in Israel. I had always experienced Judaism as religious before that.

“In South Africa I consulted on a big talent show, I Want To Sing Gospel. Gospel music is huge out there. I helped them to see that how the person singing communicates spiritually should be part of the judging process. The work I do has brought me into touch in interesting and unusual ways with other religions. Television is a window on a culture and broadens your mind,” says Justin, whose career began with a dissatisfying spell in finance. He only considered his chosen career path when a friend-of-a-friend suggested television.

A three week contract on a Channel Four late night talk show turned into three-and-a-half years, starting as cuttings boy. This provided a much needed introduction to current affairs as Justin scoured daily, weekly and monthly newspapers for interesting stories. With a colleague he invented the panel game Don’t Quote Me about things people wished they hadn’t said. This sparked a promotion and he went on to work on various programmes including Gloria Live, a morning talkshow and Behind the Headlines – a daily talk show taking a sideways look at current stories. “I also did a documentary with Norman Tebbit stating the Church of England should be privatised,” says Justin, who got a wake-up call when he was rejected from a job on a serious religious programme because his CV was too eclectic. “The rejection was despite two theology degrees,” he says. Moving on to have “immense fun” on The Crystal Maze, he would work on location, designing and overseeing games for this cult TV gameshow. He moved on to Treasure Hunt, thoroughly enjoying flying the clue-trails he designed. “I love helicopters and tried to work them into everything,” he says. He also produced CITV reality series Starfinder, which won a BAFTA for its interactivity.

Justin thoroughly enjoyed taking some time out to write books, a faster creative process than television. He wrote a series of 10 Smarties books, including joke books and a non fiction book for adults on secret signs and symbols. Now known as the Format Doctor, Justin heads a global TV consultancy with a business partner, Michel Rodriguez, who is based in Los Angeles. They have a whole range of freelance consultants on the books of The Format People. Formats are the structured narrative or blueprint for a TV show, potentially including script, camera directions, location details and character details. They work for fiction and non-fiction and can be translated easily for other cultures and countries. Justin was asked to teach a course for broadcasters and producers in making entertainment television. This gave him the chance to put everything he learned in television into a form he could communicate to others and was where he discovered he really enjoyed teaching.

He says: “A lot of people working in national television were not aware of how these international formats work. I was going away every few months to a different country and each session was in a different country. I was in Northern Ireland, Cape Town, Germany and Switzerland. Because I was teaching people from all over the world they started to ask me back to their countries to look at individual shows that they were having problems with and I became known as the Format Doctor.” His work includes helping professionals navigate the international trade for show formats.

While he relishes the travel, returning home is important to Justin. “Home for anyone is where you feel rooted and coming back to a vicarage and a parish is more than that. I plug back into something that is always there. “It’s part of the fabric of the England I grew up in and it centres me hugely. When I come back I do two things. I go for a walk so I can geographically find my way home and the other is to go to church with Felicity. To me the Church of England is rooted in our history and that makes me a traditional Anglican. Living in the vicarage has put what I do into context.

“It’s stupid getting stressed about things that are far less important than the things Felicity is dealing with. I came home once after making a game show where people were throwing footballs into fake volcanoes. The balls were bouncing out and it was all going horribly wrong. We had a crew of 70 people waiting for it to go right. It’s important that production goes right, especially if the crew are on double time. If it doesn’t, it is expensive. However, when Felicity is dealing with a suicide call or acting as a person of responsibility at the police station, the contrast is very levelling.”

“Being in a vicarage means you plug into the centre of a community, rather than spending six years trying to join it. I see all aspects of life, happiness, sadness, excitement, when I go to church. I meet people from all walks of life and all stages of life,” added Justin. As I left the vicarage he was planning to fly to Belfast the next day for a business meeting.

Justin is married to Felicity, the Team Rector of Kidlington with Hampton Poyle. They have one daughter, Nat, 23, who is training to be a vet.

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