Magazine article The Spectator

Young Excellence

Magazine article The Spectator

Young Excellence

Article excerpt

I was sitting in my local pub, the Benett Arms, one lunchtime last week when a nice old chap came in and announced that he'd just been listening to Jimmy Young on Radio Two and the results of a poll of listeners about the treatment of Taleban and al-Qa'eda prisoners at the Guantanamo base. The programme had asked its five and a half million listeners if they agreed with the way the Americans were handling them.

Ninety-two percent of those who voted supported the Americans, he said. Although he agreed with them, he expressed great surprise at this until I pointed out that he, like the rest of us, are bombarded by anti-Americanism in certain newspapers and the BBC into thinking that something reprehensible might be going on at Guantanamo whereas we know it isn't. The programme later told me that 33,500 listeners took the trouble to vote by telephone, a huge figure in my view for an opinion poll, and it indicated to me how out-of-step Islington opinion is with the rest of the country.

It also reminds me, of course, that what the BBC regards as an important issue is not shared by most of us. I don't often listen to Jimmy Young, though I tuned in last Thursday to hear Young, now Sir Jimmy, interviewing Tony Blair. It was such an excellent interview that I came away shaking my head in astonishment that Radio Two has finally succeeded in ending his contract in a year's time. The network controller, James Moir, had been itching to do this for some time but made such a mess of the process that it became a contentious saga. The only reason for it is because Young is 80, though he doesn't sound it. Moir wants someone younger, though it won't make the slightest difference to the audience figures. Young is to present a weekend programme instead.

The Blair interview was a perfect example of the Young technique. He demonstrated that you can interrupt without alienating listeners in the style of, say, John Humphrys on Today. I never thought I would sympathise with the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, who normally seems utterly ineffectual to me but I did when he was interviewed on Today recently. Humphrys wondered what the invasion of Afghanistan had achieved as Osama bin Laden was still free; it therefore was a failure.

In this section of the interview Straw was barely allowed to speak. …

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