Today programme

Why does Jamie Oliver always get an easy ride?

There are many annoying things about the celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, but none of them grates my gears as much as the media’s obsequiousness towards him. I suspect that his political campaigning is largely a self-serving gimmick to keep the Jamie Oliver brand in the public eye, but that is besides the point. The point is that he would be the first to describe himself an activist and yet he is never asked the questions that activists, let alone politicians, are asked. He gets the celebrity interview when he should be getting the political interview. He has never been hauled up on the facts. He has never been given a

New Marr is very much the same as the old Marr: LBC’s Tonight With Andrew Marr reviewed

Andrew Marr got his voice back this week. That may come as a bit of a surprise to everybody who’s been watching and listening to him on the BBC for the past 22 years but it’s the reason he gave when he announced last year that he was leaving. On Monday we heard the new voice. Marr made his debut on LBC. He’s presenting a 6 p.m. show four days a week in an hour nicked off Eddie Mair. Maybe ‘new’ voice is wrong. Not so much new, perhaps, as the old pre-BBC voice. The one he’d been forced to suppress. He called it ‘entirely my own voice’. After my

Nick Robinson: Am I a superspreader?

‘Aren’t you meant to be in quarantine?’ the man in the cloakroom queue asks. I sense that his enquiry is motivated more by concern about his wellbeing than mine. ‘Don’t worry! I’ve not got the coronavirus,’ I try to reassure him cheerily. That’ll teach me to talk about my health on the Today programme. I mentioned on air that I’d taken a precautionary test after returning from holiday in south-east Asia with a cough. Soon afterwards my guide in Phnom Penh sent a message to ask how the rest of my trip had gone. Pleased and somewhat puzzled by her solicitousness, I quickly realised that she had heard about my

What’s the point of the Today programme?

What else is there to write about in the week that John Humphrys, that titan of the BBC airwaves, retires from his duties on the Today programme? Love or hate his terrier-like style of interviewing — baiting and occasionally biting his victims metaphorically on air — there’s no denying his stature as a news broadcaster or his influence on that staple of the Radio 4 schedule. He will surely be missed, much as Sue MacGregor, Brian Redhead, Jim Naughtie et al are missed, their presence in our lives determined by that early-morning slot, the first voice we might hear each day, the voice that brings news of never-to-be-forgotten events, the

Street life | 16 August 2018

‘What can you tell me just now,’ asks Audrey Gillan. She’s talking to Tara, who’s been sleeping rough on Fournier Street in Spitalfields, close to Gillan’s home. Tara, aged 47, sounds like a man, so deep and growly is her voice, ruined by drink, cigarettes and the hardness of her life. Gillan wants to know how and why she ended up living on the street. But beyond explaining that she was slung out by her mum when she was 14 there’s little that Tara can or is prepared to tell Gillan. In Tara and George on Radio 4 (produced by Gillan and Johnny Miller) we are taken on to the

Women, women everywhere

We had a long drive back from the north-east last weekend. Six hours or so, including a stop halfway, just past Britain’s most crepuscular town, Grantham. My wife does the driving because she thinks I’ll kill us all. My job is to feed album after album into the car’s admirably old-fashioned CD player. I rarely play more than three or four songs from the same album because my wife gets tetchy and says something like ‘This is too noisy’ or ‘This is boring, change it.’ So I’m kept pretty busy. Every time I remove a CD, the car’s ‘entertainment centre’ reverts to its default position of playing Radio 4. And

First thoughts | 7 June 2018

Headlines announcing that Radio 4’s flagship Today programme is losing its audience while Radio 3’s Breakfast has put on numbers got me up and listening extra early to find out which of all the presenters is most likely to keep me tuned in. Why have the efforts to brighten up Today, with longer interviews, more arts coverage, puzzles and news items from the web, not gone down well? What’s been happening on 3 to encourage more people to tune in first thing? And, further afield, how’s Classic FM doing, or those other breakfast stalwarts, Nick Grimshaw and Chris Evans? Evans was off-duty when I tuned in to Radio 2 one

The sense of an ending | 17 May 2018

The timing of the Today programme’s series about hospices could not have been more apt, coming as it did so soon after Tessa Jowell’s death was announced with its array of tributes and the poignant interview with her husband and one of her daughters. In themselves such personal testimonies are not always that helpful — everyone’s situation is individual and the actual outcomes necessarily different. But what Jowell’s family said about her last hours and their evident acknowledgment and acceptance of their situation gave a real sense of purpose on Monday to Zoe Conway’s report from the North London Hospice. This was part of the Dying Matters campaign, urging us

Diary – 18 January 2018

My friend John Humphrys has managed to get on to the front pages again. We first met in the 1980s when I was a very junior bod on Today and he had just arrived to present. He was the same then as he is now: argumentative, hostile to authority of any kind, gimlet-focused on what people said (on and off air) but quick to smile too, and quick to laugh at himself. He was also uninterested in his own seniority at a time when the BBC was still as conscious of rank as the department store bosses in Are You Being Served? I don’t think Brian Redhead or John Timpson

Faulty connection

There’s no doubting her passion for the programme of which she is now chief of staff. Talking to Roger Bolton on Radio 4’s Feedback slot, Sarah Sands told us repeatedly how much she loved Today, how it was ‘a privilege’ to be in charge of such a ‘flagship’ programme, how its length, three hours, was such a luxury after years spent in the newspaper business. She was so happy to have so much time to cover big subjects and invite so many experts into the studio to talk about their subject. She relished the challenge of preserving the programme’s ‘depth and resonance’, its ‘great intelligence’ and ‘thoughtfulness’. Sands was responding

Here’s what Sarah Sands should do with the Today programme

I wonder what Sarah Sands will do to Radio 4’s Today programme? She is the first editor in more than 30 years to come from outside the BBC, having previously run Evgeny Lebedev’s London Evening Standard. One assumes, then, that the BBC feels that the old war horse needs a bit of shaking up, and perhaps a slight tilting on the political rudder. Sands is, almost uniquely for the boss class of the BBC, Conservative inclined, even if she was a Remainer and is of a somewhat liberal disposition. I was rather cheered by her appointment — and said so in print — as I think she is an excellent

Charles Moore

The Brexit battle is only just beginning

Nick Robinson, of the BBC, compares the Brexiteers and Remainers to ‘fighters who emerge after months of hiding in the bush, [and] seem not to accept that the war is over’. It is a false analogy because, unfortunately, the war is not over. Its most arduous phase has only just begun. This is an extract from Charles Moore’s Notes, which appears in this week’s magazine

The future of Today

I wonder what Sarah Sands will do to Radio 4’s Today programme? She is the first editor in more than 30 years to come from outside the BBC, having previously run Evgeny Lebedev’s London Evening Standard. One assumes, then, that the BBC feels that the old war horse needs a bit of shaking up, and perhaps a slight tilting on the political rudder. Sands is, almost uniquely for the boss class of the BBC, Conservative inclined, even if she was a Remainer and is of a somewhat liberal disposition. I was rather cheered by her appointment — and said so in print — as I think she is an excellent

The day I got Rod Liddle sacked

On the few occasions when something I have written has directly affected a person, I have usually regretted it. During the row about the hunting ban, I got furious with Rod Liddle, then the editor of the Today programme, because he wrote an article attacking people who hunt. I composed a thunderous leader in the Daily Telegraph about his shocking lack of impartiality and called for his sacking. Amazingly, the BBC obliged. I was dismayed, because Rod (though indeed preposterous on that particular subject) was one of the few subversive spirits ever to rise to an important editorial position in the corporation. My guilt was only partially assuaged by his

George Osborne interview: championing the ‘voice of the liberal mainstream’

After just eight weeks in the wilderness, George Osborne is back – and wants to put the pressure on Theresa May to use the phrase ‘Northern Powerhouse’ and the agenda that goes with it. Here’s an edited transcript of his BBC Today Programme interview this morning with Nick Robinson. NR: We want to talk about the Northern Powerhouse, but just to be clear then, you’re not tempted to follow your now ex-leader out of politics and spend some time writing your memoirs? No, I’m not. I don’t want to write my memoirs because I don’t know how the story ends and I want to hang around and find out. And

What if Murdoch owned the Beeb?

A new book published today by the Institute of Economic Affairs called In Focus: The Case for Privatising the BBC includes a chapter by the economist Ryan Bourne on the BBC’s left-of-centre bias. As you’d expect, Bourne’s contribution includes plenty of fascinating data, such as the fact that ‘Thought for the Day’ contributors are eight times more likely to offer a negative view of market-based and capitalist activity than a positive view. However, Bourne doesn’t accuse the Beeb of straightforward left-wing bias. Its partiality is more subtle and complicated than that. He cites an example of the BBC’s coverage of immigration provided by Roger Mosey, a former editorial director. In

Who will watch for BBC bias in the EU referendum campaign?

It is wearisome work, but I hope the ‘leave’ campaign is carefully monitoring the BBC’s coverage of the referendum. On Monday, the first full weekday since Mr Cameron’s ‘legally binding’ deal, I listened to the Today programme for more than two hours. I heard six speakers for ‘remain’ and two (John Mills and Nigel Lawson) for ‘leave’. In this I am not including any of the BBC interviewers themselves, though my hunch, based solely on the way they ask questions, is that all of them, with the possible exception of John Humphrys, are for ‘remain’. The guests explicitly in favour of ‘remain’ were Carolyn Fairbairn, Sir Mike Rake, Stanley Johnson and Michael Fallon. Jonathan

Chance encounters

Some might say that Jeremy Corbyn is cloth-eared, tone-deaf, socially inept but on Monday morning, as the death of the pop artist David Bowie scrambled the agenda on Radio 4’s Today programme, he was as graceful and twinkle-toed as Bowie himself. The opposition leader had been invited on to the ‘big slot’ just after the eight o’clock bulletin to talk about his ‘shock’ reshuffle last week. David Cameron and the Archbishop of Canterbury, no less, had already provided their rent-a-quote verdicts on Bowie’s life and death. Nick Robinson asked Corbyn for his thoughts. Quick as a flash, he responded, ‘Does that mean I’m joining the great and the good…?’ Before

Why is George Osborne sounding so gloomy?

You might have been forgiven for thinking that things were going swimmingly economically at the moment, given George Osborne managed to find £23bn down the back of the sofa for a cheery Autumn Statement. So why is the Chancellor giving such a gloomy speech today? Osborne is warning of a ‘cocktail of threats’ from around the world, and told the Today programme that ‘the difficult times are not over’. Given he started his Today interview with what sounded suspiciously like a memorised string of soundbites, he’s clearly up to something. Normally that something would be trying to embarrass Labour, but Osborne really doesn’t need to put any effort in on

John Major: leaving the EU would push Britain into ‘splendid isolation’

David Cameron is heading off to a European Council meeting tomorrow, where talks will continue on reforming Britain’s relationship with Brussels. But this will not yield results instantly, according to one of his predecessors. Sir John Major explained on the Today programme this morning why Thursday and Friday won’t be ‘high noon’ for these talks: ‘It’s a process, there will be discussion aimed at an agreement. That discussion will take place, everybody will leave and state their own positions but underneath that, there will be a movement either towards an agreement or against and we won’t actually know about that until they come to the crunch sometime next year.’ Although Major said he does