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Jayne's in the wars!

When offered the chance of an exclusive, on-location interview with Geordie TV presenter Jayne Middlemiss, far-off exotic locations immediately sprung to mind.

Could it be Vegas? Maybe LA? Ibiza even? Africa perhaps? Or Oz? Even St Petersburg would be nice.

Jayne's been to them all in the line of duty. But the location for my one-on-one with her turns out to be far from glamorous. It's not even away from these shores.

No, I find myself in the cold, disused and barren barracks and hangars of RAF Newton, near Bingham, Nottinghamshire. Hangar 1, to be precise.

Only it's not quite as barren and disused as usual today. Scores of cars line the crumbling roadways leading up to it and screams and roars can be heard from within the hangar itself.

For this is Robot Wars. And those taking part, both roboteers and spectators, are taking it all so seriously.

I, in fact, was non-plussed about being on the set of Robot Wars. Frankly, I thought the show was for geeks. But with an interview with Jayne looming at the end of it, it was a trial I was willing to put myself through.

I'd caught glimpses of the show on BBC2 in the past and quickly flicked over. Now being filmed for Five, the action, nevertheless, takes place in the same arena on a stage in which the audience is protected from any stray robots by polythene/perspex-style panes that rise from the floor to the ceiling.

Outside of the arena, in the `pit', the robots are tweaked and pampered over on tables by their adoring owners, and given inspections by the show's producers to make sure there is no cheating and the machines conform to the rules. Yes there are some rules in this mad game.

The first thing that grabs you, though, is how much smaller the robots look in reality, although they are just as powerful, if not even more so, than I imagined.

And it is addictive. I sit through a succession heats, waiting for the `local' robot, and one of the hot favourites, Firestorm V, to make its entrance. By the time it does, despite much inner-protestation, I am thoroughly enveloped in the atmosphere and joining in the audience chants, although I draw the line at having to wear a big foam hand when sending the robots to the pit on the stage!

There's much flipping, face-offs, melees and, of course, the ruling of the arena by the awesome house robots. They're mean, dangerous machines, and there's a new house robot to look forward to.

Sparks fly, at one point a washing machine falls from the roof and crushes one of the robots. Some machines lose control, battering against the panes, others are toppled from the word go or are slowly but surely torn to shreds.

These machines are the gladiators of the 22nd century and the audience is more than happy to send them to their, albeit temporary, deaths. Myself included!

In between each heat, a hyperactive Craig Charles does his TV links and interviews with the winners and losers, hardly ever fluffing a line, while Bedlington-born Jayne chats with the judges and mingles with the roboteers in the pit.

And she's loving every minute of it. When off-camera, she's wrapped up warm in a black Parka, sipping cups of coffee. But when the cameras are on, off comes the coat to reveal a dark vest, tiny leather mini skirt and knee-length leather boots. Jayne is looking good - and her attire doesn't go unnoticed by the male roboteers, whom I catch making more than the occasional admiring glances.

Glances that appear to go unnoticed for Jayne, as she genuinely seems more interested in the robots than anything else.

This is her first time as the pit reporter for Robot Wars, taking over from Philippa Forrester. "I was nervous, stepping into Philippa's footsteps. She was incredible, brilliant. She knew all the contestants out there and she comes from a technical, scientific background," she tells me. "But I was thrilled to do it, and the roboteers have been so welcoming. Philippa and I are two different people and I hope to bring my own feel to the pit reporting.

"I watched three quarters of the last series to get up to speed on the robots."

And she's putting her money on the North East's Firestorm V to come out tops. "They're from my neck of the woods," she laughs, talking about Firestorm V's creators, the recently-engaged Graham Bone and Hazel Heslop.

"I'm backing them. But I have to be impartial, really so I'll be backing them on the quiet."

Quiet isn't a word you would normally associate with Jayne, 31. Her thick Geordie accent is one of the most recognisable voices on the box and she's proud of her twang, which goes into overdrive when talking about her Robot Wars debut.

I ask her if she can name the 100-plus robots off by heart. "Howay, man," she yells with a giggle. "I'm not that good! Can you?"

Her name was put forward for the pit job by co-presenter Craig Charles who has been with Robot Wars since the beginning and got to know Jayne through them both having slots on BBC Radio's Six Music station.

"You do get to know the robots, though," she continues, during a break in filming. "And some you get to know better than others."

These are robots, I remind her, not people. "But I've never had more fun. Never been more excited. You can't help but get wrapped up in it all," she exclaims.

"I like to see a good fight, and with this you get to see as much fighting as possible and the best thing is nobody gets hurt. There is the violence without the pain and I like that.

"I mean, just look at some of those machines. They're monsters. So frightening. There's all that adrenaline and not one human suffers.

"And there are a few robots I'd like to see get completely annihilated."

With words like that, you would think this was an adults-only show. But generations of family come to watch Robot Wars and young and old alike get caught up in the frenzy.

"There's such a great family atmosphere. It's really weird, a great day out for everybody," says Jayne. "As soon as I knew the job was up for grabs, I was so excited. I wanted it from the word go. I worked on Techno Games, so I am not completely new to the world of robots.

"I'm not very technically-minded, though. I can change a plug and that's about it.

"You wouldn't want to see me drive a robot, I can't even drive a car!"

Jayne's on good form. Although born and bred in the North East, she has lived in London for more than a decade.

Fiercely protective about her personal life, she refuses to comment on her current relationship status. It has been reported, though, that she has split from her long-term boyfriend, TV director Eliot Fletcher.

If that is the case, single life is doing her good. She looks radiant as we chat on the sofa of the Robot Wars `green room'. It's not like most green rooms (hang-outs for celebs in theatres and TV studios), with plastic chairs strewn all over the place, spilled milk by the polystyrene coffee cups and a live TV link to the current Robot Wars contest in the nearby arena.

"No, you're right. It isn't that glamorous," she agrees, when I ask how it compares to those wonderful foreign locations she's been to in her role as a TV travel reporter.

"But I wouldn't change it. I honestly wouldn't. When you do those travel features, there is little time to take out, to chill. You travel thousands of miles in a very short period and it is mostly work and no play.

"While Robot Wars may not look glamorous, at least we're in the one place and the crew are great fun. I'm having a ball."

And with that, it's time for the cameras to roll again and Jayne's off to catch up with Firestorm V which is about to go up against Reptirron The Second in the arena.

I run for my ringside seat. I've waited six hours for this moment and can't believe it myself that I am as excited about it as I am.

Firestorm V gets a deafening roar of approval from the audience. The robot is seeded three this year, having come close to being overall winner for the past two years.

Creators, design engineer Graham, 24, of Durham City, and mechanical engineering lecturer Hazel, 25, of Killingworth, are hoping to wed next year as newly-crowned Robot Wars champions. "I'd like to think we're in with a good chance," says Graham.

I'm not giving the game away. All I'll say is the heat I witnessed was a one-way affair and I left with a big smile on my face.

In fact, I had a smile on my face throughout most of the day. Whoever said only geeks watch Robot Wars?

* Robot Wars starts on Channel Five on November 2.

Down-to-earth lass made it to top

Down-to-earth Jayne Middlemiss grew up in a working-class area of Bedlington and is known for her likeable but gobby personality.

She first sprang to fame in 1995 as a presenter of The O-Zone with Jamie Theakston and has since gone on to host a succession of hit TV shows including Top of the Pops, She's Gotta Have It, Holiday You Call The Shots and, most recently, The Games (also with Theakston).

Lenny Kravitz apparently proposed to after she had interviewed him for her first major celebrity TV piece.

But Jayne's never been really star-struck. Gone are her lager-drinking "laddette" days. Now you're more likely to find her at a yoga centre than down the pub.

As a child she went to Whitley Memorial Primary School, Meadowdale Middle School and Bedlington High School. Dad Tom, who has now retired, was a miner and mum Janet a factory worker. Her younger sister Allyson, a trained nurse, now gives talks in schools about breastfeeding and bringing up children.

A job in an electrical store wasn't for Jayne so she quit and moved to London where she picked up work as a glamour model. Some TV and radio work followed, including working with Noel Edmonds and Chris Evans, before Jayne took time out to nanny two toddlers for a friend.

But the lure of showbiz was too great and she soon found herself as a researcher at GMTV before auditioning for The O-Zone.

Home is where the heart is for Jayne and that remains Bedlington.

"It's really nice when I come back home, nobody treats me any differently.

"That's the good thing about people from the North East. They are just very grounded and very chilled."
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Title Annotation:Ents On the box
Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Oct 15, 2003
Words:1818
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