True Colours Need Time to Show: Andrew Billen Thinks Jeremy Vine Should Cut out the Jokes and Focus on Questions. (Television)
Billen, Andrew, New Statesman (1996)
"What the hell is he talking about?" was my initial reaction to the way Radio 2's Jeremy Vine introduced the first edition of his Politics Show on Sunday (noon, BBC1). In a week of transport chaos, JV told us that a commuter delayed for two years on an InterCity train had arrived at Newcastle Station and demanded the resignation of Stephen Byers. And then, as the titles rolled, I realised: My God, Jeremy had made a joke. Whereas news shows once started with the arresting headlines, The Politics Show, successor to On the Record, was starting with the "And finally..." The bong was dead; long live the bad-a-bing.
Trying to be funny, as is sometimes pointed out, is a crime only in this country, but we should nevertheless be grateful that earlier plans for JY to deliver a full-scale, David Letterman-style monologue were abandoned. The joke and JV's open-necked shirt, however, both point to the BBC's desire to make politics welcoming to those uninterested in Westminster, particularly the elusive young. The fact that you need to know your politics to remember who Steve Byers was, and that JV, with or without a tie, is about as hip as Jimmy Young himself does not seem to have occurred. Yet despite the joke, its silly, double-bluff title and its overlit yet gloomy set (its "windows" look out on to anonymous tower blocks), there is nothing much wrong with the new programme, or, rather, nothing that cannot quickly be fixed.
The trailers claim that it is "about the whole picture, from Downing Street to your street", a dig at its predecessor, On the Record, which pretended with gothic insanity to come from within the mechanism of Big Ben itself. Sure enough, the first item sent a reporter down to Monmouth, where she found the local MP besieged by constituents and activists opposed to war. JV oversold this when he promised that they had "uncovered evidence that once loyal supporters of Tony Blair are willing to oppose him on Iraq" -- we all know that -- but the report was a decent enough stick with which to club the Labour chairman, John Reid, when he appeared for his studio grilling.
The question here was not if On the Record's John Humphrys would have skewered him more effectively but whether the new ten-minute format allowed Reid to get a way with what the old 30-minute interview would have forced him to confront. Instructively, it was only in the final five minutes of Jonathan Dimbleby's vigorous 25-minute quizzing of Tariq Aziz in Baghdad (Jonathan Dimbleby, 1pm, ITV1, Sunday) that the Iraqi deputy prime minister began to show his true colours and lose his rag. In contrast, Reid emerged as happy as a duck in drizzle. …