Reuters chief executive Peter Job reveals an informed appreciation of the plays of Shakespeare at a performance of EnglishTouring Theatre's Macbeth in the company of author, broadcaster and theatre critic, Sheridan Morley.
'This takes me back a bit,' says the chief executive of Reuters, as we enter the ornate Frank Matcham Victorian interior of the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith, where the curtain is about to rise on English Touring Theatre's production of Macbeth. 'Do you get to see Shakespeare much these days?' I ask.
'Not as often as I would like, but I do have particular memories of this play. When I was about 13 I played Lady Macbeth at my prep school, and what I mostly remember was a long and very scratchy pigtail, and then forgetting one of my most important entrances, thereby leaving an indignant Macbeth all alone on stage. I think it was soon after that I decided I was not cut out for the theatre, though I did once write the school play - in French.' Reading modern languages at Oxford in the early 1960s, Job turned to classical music, playing the clarinet and singing in college choirs, but there was never again to be time for a backstage life. With a degree in French and German, Job went straight into Reuters as a trainee reporter in 1963 and has been there ever since; at 54 he now heads a newsgathering organisation with a turnover of nearly £2 billion. A shy man who has always avoided the headlines, even of his own organisation, Job joined Reuters partly to overcome his own fear of telephones. 'Journalism is a great way to establish confidence in yourself, though for my first year or two at Reuters I was hardly ever given anything to do; graduate trainees were heartily disliked by the journalists who had made their way there through regional newspapers. But then I was sent to India and everything changed: bureaux are always short-staffed so everyone does everything.' After India came Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta, South America and the rest of the Far East, but Job's theatrical interests have never left him. He is fascinated by Shakespeare's characters and his plots, less so by the actors who perform them, perhaps as a consequence of having read widely in places where performances were hard to come by. On home leave, however, from various worldwide Reuters assignments, he would always make a point of taking his children to the RSC's summer seasons at Stratford-upon-Avon. His favourite play is Macbeth and he has thought long and hard about the motivation of its principal characters. 'I never really notice the individual actors or the productions,' he says, although on this particular night at the Lyric, all the actors are young and speak in impenetrable though impeccable Scots. It is clear that Job knows the play well enough not to be thrown by a wayward accent.
'All these witches and floating daggers aren't the point,' he explains. 'Shakespeare was interested in the human beings, not the supernatural, but he was writing at a time when magic was part of the culture so it's there. The problem with Macbeth as a play is that everything interesting happens in the first half, all the excitement, all the energy. By the second half the play is more or less over.' This Macbeth, we agree afterwards, was not really up to RSC standards: an efficient, low-budget, almost Shakespeare-for-Schools touring version with some curious cuts, notably that of the Doctor from Lady Macbeth's sleepwalking scene. 'He has to be there,' says Job reasonably, 'or else how does the outside world ever get to know that she's mad?' The production would have been much helped by a more experienced cast, a richer budget and perhaps an overall point of view about the play, but we also have to admit that in the present economic state of the touring theatre in Britain an even halfway decent Macbeth is better than none at all.
'I've never cared for anything much - music or theatre - that was written after 1830,' he admits, somewhat apologetically, but, in addition to Shakespeare, Job has a genuine passion for Schubert and is well on the way to a record collection that includes all of his known compositions.
But then, given the immense changes that he has seen in his lifetime at Reuters - where he was the last reporter to file in Morse code, and (having moved upstairs to the executive suite), the first to preside over its new multimedia interests in radio and television - it is perhaps not surprising that his private interests should be so firmly rooted in the classical past.