Magazine article The Spectator

Rod Liddle: With Paxman Gone, There Are Even Fewer Reasons to like the BBC

Magazine article The Spectator

Rod Liddle: With Paxman Gone, There Are Even Fewer Reasons to like the BBC

Article excerpt

Credit: Rod Liddle

In a double blow for the beleaguered BBC, the corporation has lost three of its most compelling attractions in little more than a month: the Newsnight presenter Jeremy Paxman, and Susanna Reid's legs. Paxman has said he has had enough and announced his retirement from the thinly viewed current affairs programme. Susanna Reid's legs have made their way over to ITV for its even more thinly viewed breakfast show called 'Phwoar, Wake Up and Have a Look At This' or whatever. The legs have attracted criticism for spending a substantial proportion of the show hidden from view under a desk while the rest of Susanna Reid jabbered about something with a slight smirk on her face in full view of the camera. It is possible that Ms Reid prefers it this way -- in which case, as a compromise, it might be best if the legs were detached from the rest of her and placed in a glass display case on the table alongside, where we might all enjoy them. I am not privy to her contract with ITV so cannot be sure that this would meet with the agreement of all parties, however, it seems a sensible option to me. The rest of Susanna Reid could then carry on being a 'serious journalist' and even take part in the Paralympics if she so wished and would put in a modicum of training.

Paxman is a different issue; I have seen his legs and they are fine, noble specimens, but they are going with the rest of him into the television retirement lounge of Nice Documentaries. He has done 25 years at Newsnight and I think it is fair to say that he is the main reason a million or so people watch the programme. But the BBC is a strange and perverse organisation and Paxman has never fitted into it terribly well as a presenter. Successive director-generals -- who are, by definition, part of an establishment which Paxman disdains -- have considered the chap a 'problem', much as they consider the BBC's other interrogative interviewer (yes, it had two -- now it has just one), John Humphrys.

When I was editor of the Today programme, for which Humphrys still works, it was made clear that there was a 'Humphrys problem', just as over at television there was a 'Paxman problem'. The two journalists were considered overly aggressive with our elected representatives, and guilty of holding the polity in a sneering contempt. Plenty of executives bought into the thesis, promulgated by the Blairite journalist John Lloyd, that this sort of approach to interviewing had a corrosive effect upon democracy, and other such pompous drivel. Whereas in fact it was a reaction to a development in modern politics which really did have a corrosive effect upon democracy, i. …

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