Magazine article The Spectator

Lost Love

Magazine article The Spectator

Lost Love

Article excerpt

Radio Four News publicity asked me if I was interested in the 35th anniversary of PM and The World Tonight, which occurred last week, and I said I certainly was as I'd reported for both over the years and had also presented The World Tonight. After that I heard nothing, so I dutifully tuned in to both to discover that PM did a better job by far of marking the occasion than the rather pathetic effort of The World Tonight. I was reminded, though, of how much both programmes had changed since 1970.

PM had the bright idea of inviting its former presenter Susannah Simons on to the programme to reminisce; she'd left in 1987. Her former co-presenters had been Robert Williams and Gordon Clough, now both dead, unfortunately. Simons, after periods at Channel Four and Classic FM, is now back at the BBC as head of public affairs and outreach (whatever that means) BBC radio and music. Sitting opposite today's presenter Eddie Mair, she expressed surprise that he hadn't been brought a gin-and-tonic by now as this had been the custom mid-programme when she worked there. I remember it well. Someone, usually the editor, would pour jug-sized gins-and-tonics and bear them to the studio. If there was a slight slurring of speech before the end of the programme, it wasn't enough to be noticed by unsuspecting listeners. The drinking would continue when the programme ended. When I first encountered The World at One and PM (the same stable), Bill Hardcastle presented the former and co-presented the latter. He managed to see off both Steve Race and Derek Cooper on PM to dominate both programmes, until the enormous workload occasionally led Hardcastle to doze off mid-live interview and he was confined to The World at One.

As Simons observed, PM was more of a magazine programme then. I would be asked to interview Sir John Betjeman about his latest slim volume and would encourage him to read one of his poems, which he would agree to without much persuasion. On another occasion it was the painter Gilbert Spencer, the less well known brother of Stanley. Arts and book interviews were part of the programme. Now it's just relentless news and it's not the better for it. There was also more humour. You could gently satirise; although I can't for the life of me remember what it was about, I do recall a wonderfully chaotic press conference in the foyer of a London theatre with Elizabeth Taylor struggling to retain her boobs in the crush of photographers and minders but maintaining a good humour throughout.

As for The World Tonight, its perfunctory commemoration was deeply disappointing. …

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