Saturday 29 November 2014

The 'Today' Christmas guest editors 2014

Waking up this morning, the fifth most important story in the world - according to the BBC News website - was Lenny Henry to guest edit R4's Today

I'm guessing that someone important must have already noticed that this might be seen as naval-gazing and inappropriate (given all the more important news stories around this morning) so, in the last hour, the story has plummeted to 12th place. 

Still, the angle the BBC News website chose in reporting the story is interesting. Its focus, via that headline, is on Lenny Henry - the famous comedian who hit the headlines recently with his complaints about the BBC's treatment of black people. 

The more high-minded Independent, in contrast, takes the intellectual high road and goes with "John Bercow joins Lady Butler-Sloss and Lenny Henry as Today programme guest editors", as does the Telegraph which places its cast-list in the following order: John Bercow, Mervyn King, Lenny Henry, Tracey Thorn and Baroness Butler Sloss.

Is this an example of the BBC dumbing-down by pushing the famous celebrity among the Today Christmas guest editor list? Or is it the BBC prioritising the race angle - like the Guardian, whose headline is Lenny Henry to explore racial diversity as guest editor of Today programme?

...and, of course, much the same question may be asked of Today editor Jamie Angus for choosing Lenny in the first place.

John Bercow is going to focus on democracy and tennis, talking to Aung San Suu Kyi and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales. He'll also get to interview his hero Roger Federer.

Lord King is going to go back to his old school, commemorate the bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo and debate whether German footballers are cleverer than their English counterparts.

Lady Butler Sloss will focus on the status of Gibraltar, the public's “misunderstanding” of the countryside, and look at the stresses and strains of being a parish priest.

Lenny Henry will, in the Telegraph's words, "investigate diversity in broadcasting, business and sport, as well as interviewing individuals who helped to break down racial barriers a generation ago."

Tracey Thorn, of Everything But The Girl fame, will, also  in the Telegraph's words, "pay homage to Kate Bush and examine how the internet can be a force for good for teenagers".

Bias-wise, what can we say? 

No much, I suppose, except that there's a clear pro-establishment bias there in that three of the guests are pillars of the British establishment: The Speaker of the House of Commons, a former Governor of the Bank of England and a former President of the High Court Family Division. 

Politically, Lenny Henry was a famous Labour luvvie from the days of Red Wedge in the '80's and was well into the Blair years. Is he still one? Tracey Thorn certainly is, and she's always banging on about how the 1980s are being misrepresented by the Tory establishment and how it should be remembered as the era of Red Wedge, so I predict that topic will also feature on her edition of the show. Former Tory MP-turned-Speaker John Bercow is famously impartial [ahem, sarcasm alert!], just as impartial as the BBC in fact (and, some think, in the same leftwards direction). Mervyn King is also considered impartial, though Labour appears to have long considered him to have Conservative leanings. Lady Butler Sloss stood for the Conservatives 55 years ago, but whether that makes her a Conservative now is another matter, particularly as she sits as a crossbencher in the House of Lords. So, that's all as clear as mud. 

No scientists, of course. Of course.

The guests and the topics they are apparently going to focus on aren't exactly ones that are setting my pulse racing. It's a safer selection than previous years. The word "worthy" springs to mind.


  1. "The status of Gibraltar". I wonder what the BBC view of that is ? Any guesses ?

  2. "The status of Gibraltar". I wonder what the BBC view of that is ? Any guesses ?

    1. At least Lady Butler Sloss is strongly supporter of Gibraltar's Britishness. She's been campaigning for the UK government to remain resolute on the issue for some time. Hopefully, she'll use her guest editorship to remind Radio 4 listeners of Gibraltar's importance as an enthusiastic British Overseas Territory.

    2. Her selection and that of King surely must be one of those typical body swerves the BBC does to "balance" out last year's PJ Harvey fiasco. They will now get complaints about being pro-Tory or pro-Establishment or whatever, and Jamie Angus and Co. can go out to dinner each night toasting to "complaints from both sides", job done. It's sad that they only do this when forced by their own mistakes.

      Lenny Henry is now the kind of token he complained about,as his selection can only be a response to his missive. Let's see what he does with it.


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