Sarah Sands

Diary – 21 September 2017

Also: Falling asleep interviewing politicians, a puzzle a day and why Today seems obsessed with prisons

Next month, the Today programme marks its 60th anniversary, so I have been mugging up on the archives. If there is a lasting characteristic, I reckon it is curiosity about how the world works. After four months in this job, my sense of wonder is undimmed that global experts on everything from nuclear warheads to rare plants can be conjured on to the show. Political debate is at the heart of Today, but it is knowledge rather than opinion that I prize most, and even the most avid political interviewers have a hinterland. They also understand the cumulative effect of unsocial working hours. The great Sue MacGregor, who is chairing a reunion of Today old hands as part of our anniversary programme, reminds me that she once fell asleep while interviewing Michael Heseltine.

I recite the Reithian principles of educating, informing and entertaining like morning prayer. I didn’t go to one of the grand universities that can no longer appear on CVs at the BBC, and so regard Today as a news version of Open University, an educational utopia. Some commentators have objected to the 30 seconds we devote each day to a puzzle, set by GCHQ and other brainboxes. It is there to celebrate mathematics and to remind us that problem-solving and decoding run deep in the nation’s past and its future. A tech entrepreneur told me it has become the perfect start to her day.

There has also been grumbling that science, arts and culture feature more in the programme than they used to. I refer back to our origins. The late Robin Day, who conceived it, was steeped in politics, but one of his first ideas was for a daily item on an arts first night. Coming from newspapers, I find it natural to mix subjects.

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