BBC News Fix

  • BBC News Presenter Count 2015: The Today Programme

    “The six o’clock pips sound across the nation. The red lights flash and the studio blinks to life and the familiar old juices stir. Three hours of live broadcasting lie ahead with an audience of millions leaning on our every word. Three hours in which to wield (if Jonathan Aitken will forgive the plagiarism) the simple sword of truth and the trusty shield of British fair play. Three hours to educate the audience with stuff they didn’t even know they wanted to know and to enrich the democratic process by giving them information they will store away, the better to make a wise choice at the ballot box when next called upon. And to do it all in an entertaining way.” – John Humphrys, old bloke who’s still getting up early every ruddy morning, celebrating a bonkers count of years on that radio show.

    Is listening to BBC Radio 4 a pretentious activity for a young person to engage in, nowadays? Is what my grandfather, a lovely man who reads the Telegraph way too thoroughly (crosswords and all), asked me at Christmas. I was speechless, but that’s wholeheartedly because I’d lost my voice just a few hours earlier. Speech and conversation with gramps is a laugh, just don’t play Michael Bublé when he’s around.

    I’m a great fan of the Today programme and it’s actually thanks to my learned (screw it, awesome) colleague and buddy at BNF, Jack Axford, that this count has been… counted. I mean, a breakfast show with five presenters keeping it going six mornings a week? (With the help of two journalists this year, the cheats.) It’s an opportunity neither of us could refuse and if keeping the score of who’s pairing up with who every crack of dawn isn’t enough, I’d say the show is actually an interesting listen, too – that's if you’re still awake by the time the business news with Simon Jack is airing, having not dozed off back to the perils of a nightmare featuring George Osborne and Schrödinger's cat. (At this point I’m in the garden, watering my plants. Whether I’m taking the piss or not is up to you. And the fact that I’ve made such a remark should give you a clue. Hey, I’m a poet.) Some things I take serious note of, though. Like I swear Teresa May is the 8:10 interview guest every other morning. I’m pretty sure, also, that Nick Robinson’s voice, bless the guy, was much more game for a radio show than I was come the festive celebrations because ha, ironically, (big Scudamore life reveal here): I used to present on the radio. Check out my repertoire if you dare.

    Anyway, last year on Today (I laugh while I type this – with such a title for a show, cue many puns and nonsensical sentences): John Humphrys, the distinguished host of Mastermind and all-round elderly gent as the Katniss Everdeen of such an institution like Today, beat his fellow hosts to claiming the undisputed prize of waking up at 4am most with 135 appearances. (Long sentence, I know, but I’m trying to capture the long-winded tenure of the guy.) Justin Webb was runner-up with 121, with Sarah Montague lagging closely behind with 115 and Mishal Husain taking fourth spot on 92. James Naughtie, roving reporter for 2014 covering the pointless Scottish referendum and election tidings, took a year out as it were with 73. Such a waste of petrol.

    Here’s this year’s statistics:

    (1) Justin Webb – 133

    (2) Sarah Montague – 124

    John Humphrys – 124

    (3) James Naughtie – 122

    (4) Mishal Husain – 98

    (5) Nick Robinson – 15

    (6) Matthew Price – 7

    (7) Simon Jack – 1

    Leaping lizard, great Scot, I say and goodness gracious me! Webb triumphs and takes the trophy with an honourable 133 mornings on Today, which is an interesting win given that a few years ago the former North America editor for BBC News had a medical setback, hindering his average of 3 appearances every week. The fact that Webb and Montague, who don’t have any other BBC commitments, rank so highly each year alongside Humphrys (whose count this year is beginning to show that his century-long retirement has, indeed, begun) is telling and, for me, as an unpronounced feminist I’m glad Montague got more time to shine in an amazing year for news – which is great, considering how much schtick she gets for her interviewing style. Really, the Guardian? Moreover, it's wonderful that Humphrys and Montague, as the longest-serving hosts going into 2016, can share the silver spotlight. A shame they can't agree on the studio temperature, though.

    I am confuddled, however, as to why for the second year in what I hope to be a long tenure for her, Husain doesn’t step over the 100 mark which is, as everyone knows (haha, shrieks with nervous laughter), the thing every Today host wants to dance and celebrate in achieving. She came close, I'll say that. Looking at the ratios, either five presenters can all share a low count of 100 roughly each year or, as our statistics for 2014/15 have shown, four take a meaty load of the work (it was the best metaphor I could come up with) and one (Husain) sits back. Husain is my absolute favourite voice on Today and, as one retired BBC Director General called her, is “one to watch”… which is ironic… given that she’s on the radio. It’s the dramatic pauses and ellipses that earn the laughs, folks.

    Webb and Husain, who have taken a large portion of analysis, here, are actually my preferred presenting partnership if I were allowed to have one. The two are young, intelligent and they spark off each other in the brief banter they’re allowed to have brilliantly, and to charming effect, even if the Mail are reporting a romanticised sort of journalism is blossoming, here. (Seriously, I had to think of how to phrase that but I think I nailed it. And by reading this you would have guessed by now that, of course, I manage to read the Telegraph with gramps, the Guardian and the Mail every day of the week.)

    It was a poignant farewell and "see you on the books show" to Jim Naughtie come December. This was a man whose voice could shed poetry and move you enough to believe in a news story and its human nature. He was capable of bringing off really extraordinary interviews and appeared to be so clever. His knowledge of politics was encyclopaedic and his renaissance style made me smile. I shall miss him, for I’m afraid that Nick Robinson just isn’t cutting the mustard for me. Time is a virtue, they say. Well I say it also makes a great magazine read.

    The future: Husain and Webb should emerge as the frontrunners, the spearheads of Today for another decade whilst Humphrys' and, with time, Montague’s appearance counts simmer. Matthew Price should replace whoever is next to depart the airwaves. My guess is that it could either be Webb or Montague, the latter causing havoc as radio controllers everywhere scan the building for a top-notch female journalist to balance the troupe out, gender-wise. As to who that would be, I have no idea. Kate Silverton? Anita Arnold? Joanna Gosling?

    Before I bow out with the colossal BBC News Channel count analysis, I’d like to commend Jack Axford for his time on the site. He’s not leaving, it’s just that him and I are both marking five years as editors and, no matter what’s happening, we’ve both had each other’s backs in seeing the transition of BNF’s hands from April to us and recruiting Harry Bailey, who’s doing a great job on PM.

    In true Today fashion, I’ll end by saying that today’s editor was… me, Tom Scudamore. From the weekend branch at BNF, a very good morning.

    * Looks at watch, reads “23:08”. *

    Tom Scudamore,

    BNF’s weekend resident

    P.S. RIP Terry Wogan x


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