Alastair Campbell: Radio 4’s Today should be less middle class – The Guardian
19 February 2019 MUSIC
BBC Radio 4’s Today programme should be less upper-middle class and less London-centric, Labour party grandee Alastair Campbell has said, urging the BBC to use the departure of longtime host John Humphrys as an opportunity to reform itself.
The agenda-setting radio show lost 800,000 listeners last year and came under criticism for not adequately representing a broad spectrum of interests across the nation, often featuring middle-class guests.
“Think younger, when planning subjects and interviewees,” Campbell recommended in an interview with the Radio Times. “Think less upper-middle-aged, upper-middle class. Think less London. Think less political process and more policy. Think less ‘gotcha’ entertainment and more education and enlightenment.”
Alastair Campbell, who suggests the Radio 4 programme should produce more original content. Photograph: Andrew Winning/Reuters
Detractors regularly claim the BBC and its programmes only amplify the pages of newspapers. Campbell said Today should produce more original content and reflect what the papers say less. “Not just in the review of said papers but in the setting of the news and interview agenda too.”
Sarah Sands, the former Evening Standard editor, became Today editor in 2017, and criticism soon followed, with many saying there were too many “soft” interviews on the programme and not enough hard reporting.
“Gone was the questioning, argumentative tone that characterises most current affairs output, let alone the harrumphing cynicism that has come to be Humphrys’s stock-in-trade,” Campbell said.
“This was peak reverence for a ‘much-loved institution’. We had giggly, flirty interviews as rival presenters from rival shows sought out the great man and he pretended to be grumpy. Hard news this was not.”
However, he paid tribute to Humphrys for outstaying former Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre, Manchester United legend Alex Ferguson and the recently departed Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger by some distance.
But, Campbell added, “not unlike Wenger”, Humphrys had failed to evolve with the times, criticising the veteran broadcaster for “opinionated snorting sarcasm” and giving hard Brexit advocates such as Jacob Rees-Mogg, Iain Duncan Smith and David Davis “a chummier ride” than other guests.
He also recommended that the programme should start to cover arts, culture and sport as serious issues rather than using the topics as “fluffy fillers between the hard stuff”.
“Think about moving or getting rid of some of the furniture. If you must persist with Thought for the Day, make it more interesting, more varied, younger, less London,” Campbell said.
Though he noted his turbulent relationship with the Today programme meant he was “the last person they would listen to”, with his infamous interview with Andrew Gilligan on the show leading to the Hutton inquiry and Humphrys accusing Tony Blair’s former spokesperson of attempting to “derail the BBC”, Campbell made some suggestions for who should replace Humphrys.
“Think Emma Barnett or Shelagh Fogarty or Victoria Derbyshire. Not yet trapped inside the BBC/Westminster bubble. Northerners all. Quizzical not cynical. Tough but fair.”