Chris Jackson's first ever TV experience was on Byker Grove.
He recalls going along to the set as an extra only to leave the make-up room with a wig and clown’s red nose.
“Then the producer said ‘can you juggle’?” he laughs.
That might have ended up on the cutting-room floor but better cast as a BBC presenter he knows the region better than most, not least due to the in-depth research he carries out on his patch for the range of stories and investigations he covers in Inside Out.
The popular programme returns to our screens on Monday for its autumn series and sees Chris comfortably back in the role he’s made his own since the very first episode aired in 2002.
There are 11 regional variations of Inside Out and Chris, who’s 53 next month, is one of only two original presenters.
What he continues to love about it is the fact it’s always a mixed bag: “I don’t know what I’m doing from one moment to the next!”
If viewers get to learn new things from the real-life show then so does he and he says: “The biggest compliment ever is when I get people saying ‘I didn’t know that and I’ve lived here all my life’.”
Covering North East and Cumbria, Chris’s programme - which has a 7.30pm slot “after The One Show and before EastEnders” where it maintains a mix of serious and lighthearted issues - has remained hugely popular with viewers who see the presenter as one of their own.
As for that missing local accent, he just never had a chance to develop it.
He explains how he moved away with his parents and elder sister at the age of just five when his late father’s management job at Procter & Gamble took them to Germany while his brother, 13 years older, stayed at home.
They settled in an area popular with American forces families and, attending their school, he picked up an American accent.
“Then at 12 I was sent to London to go to school there,” he says, and the result was a “strange hybrid accent”.
“So I’m a proud Geordie but I don’t sound it!”
Chris says he actually has more of an accent when speaking German, which he’d “picked up from the streets”.
He went on to the University of Warwick - “I was a lazy b*gger so ended up doing a German degree” - where, attracted by its student radio station, he was soon running it.
Radio and its workings had fascinated him since he was a child when would experiment with sound. He loves the “slightly anonymous” nature of it and what can be conjured up for listeners.
“I knew that’s what I wanted to do,” he says.
“Radio was my first love: I’d be in my bedroom with cassettes and messing around with tapes and things.”
During university he had the chance to do some traffic broadcasts on a breakfast show at a commercial radio station in Coventry where he was “getting up at 4am then falling asleep later during lectures”.
But it proved a “good launch pad for my career” and post-degree he was never out of work. From radio presenting in the Midlands and Wales and training as a journalist, he returned to the North East - where his family had resettled - in 1986.
His mother was not well and he says: “I felt the need to come back”.
He joined BBC Radio Newcastle as the Northumberland producer which he describes as “one of the best jobs” despite finding himself cut off by bad weather for three days in his solitary base in Alnwick.
His first TV reporting job came on Look North, then the domain of Mike Neville, the North East favourite many grew up watching from their living rooms.
Back then the programme style was serious and this was someone who had an easy style and gravitas at the same time. Or, as Chris puts it, “he was kind of a god”.
His own first taste of TV presenting came unexpectedly, when he turned up at work one morning at 5am to find the newsreader had a black eye, having walked into a door, and no amount of make-up would cover it.
On their own with no time to consult anybody, they made the swap.
While Chris had been on screen before as a reporter he’d never read an autocue which is harder than people realise.
But everything went ok and by the time they notified the boss Chris was sailing though the next segment.
“He was a little perturbed but when he saw me he let me carry on so I must have been good enough!”
The media industry has changed hugely over the years and in the digital world Chris is often a one-man band who produces his films and documentaries too.
“When I first started in TV, a lighting person would come out and a sound producer - you had a whole team.”
He can call on them when needed but says: “People don’t realise that I work behind the camera as well and sometimes there’s no crew - just me and the camera - and people will say ‘where’s the make-up lady’?”
When the job at Inside Out was advertised, he auditioned “and was delighted when I got it”. In the early days “it was a very different programme”.
“When I first started it had slightly more of a light touch as we found out feet.
“Now we’re much more serious in terms of hard news investigations.”
It’s the research for these that takes the time. “The filming and getting it on TV is the last stage of it all.”
It makes for plenty memorable moments, from wheelchair racer Tanni Grey-Thompson helping to expose abuses of disabled parking bays to the fun story requiring Chris to bare all for an insider’s view of local nudist beaches: “a great equaliser” he says of the shared nakedness. Just as well it was summer.
In a bid to expose lax certificate checks, he’s even had his pet cat George registered as a hypnotherapist - and he possibly still is as Chris has since been billed for the fee a second time.
Another time, after accompanying Tyneside woman Lisa French on her first London bus ride since she was injured in the 7/7 bus bombings, Chris agreed to face a fear in return and did a free-fall parachute jump.
He faces risks too in investigations which can expose dodgy characters - and he was once assaulted.
But Chris says he will only challenge people if all attempts to offer them their right to reply have come to nothing.
“We don’t do those lightly; they’re potentially difficult situations when you don’t know how someone is going to react.
“There’s the potential of it turning physical and you have to be prepared for that.”
The Inside Out team includes undercover workers and the series’ editor and producer will help decide how to tackle a story, such as the idea of Chris carrying a street preacher’s placard reading ‘repent of your sins’ when he confronted a rogue solicitor in Teesside as a way of exposing the hypocrisy of the self-proclaimed Christian who eventually “ended up going to jail because of what we did”.
“We could have done it in a million and one different ways,” says Chris.
But for Chris the satisfaction comes from helping to change someone’s life, as in the case of Chinese artist Chun-Chao Chi, a married dad-of-one living in Newcastle and running courses at Sunderland University, who was faced with deportation.
His passport had not been stamped on his return from visiting family in Taiwan, leading the authorities to claim he had spent a long period of time out of the country.
“He was a perfectly legitimate tax-paying citizen,” says Chris. “Obviously he had been here, paying his bills, running courses, which you could prove it in two minutes but his whole life was trashed by the system.”
But soon after Chris did a piece about “the man who was not there”, the authorities accepted the artist had a right to remain and he was finally able to get on with his life.
In an age that requires ever more from limited resources, the award-winning Inside Out is managing to hold the local line in investigative reporting.
“Tyne Tees used to do lots of regional programmes which is not possible for them any more,” says Chris whose several awards include the Royal Television Society’s presenter of the year on three occasions.
Local media, as he points out, plays a vital role. At such times as the floods in Cumbria, the national news dips in and then out but “we’re still there afterwards”.
So what local take on major issues can viewers expect from his new series beginning on Monday?
First up, e-cigarettes will come under the microscope: “I think I’m right in saying we’re the first TV programme to properly look at what’s in them,” says Chris who adds that the findings are “starling and shocking”.
Other eye-opening topics to come include dementia; the effects of sugar on the body; pensioners having to work beyond retirement age, and safety issues and regulations concerning tanning salons.
“To be able to tell your own home patch about stuff going on that they might not know or should know is a great honour and a privilege,” concludes the man with Geordie pride in his heart.