Thursday 29 November 2018

More on the BBC man who can't tell his Tolstoy from his Trollope

Back in the early summer of 2013, I launched a series of full-length reviews of Radio 4's PM, reviewing every item every day for a month or so. 

Looking back at them (examples here, here, herehere) I think they were fair - and they found that, with exceptions, PM itself (and Eddie Mair, its main presenter back then) was pretty fair too, and often highly interesting and entertaining as well.

Times change. Presenters change. 2016 happened. (Brexit, Trump). And now, out goes Eddie and in comes Evan. 

Having dipped into recent editions, I listened to it in full tonight. And what a falling-off there's been! Hyperion to a satyr!

Seriously, there's been a change, and it's not been a change for the good.

Is it a case of PBTBH (Post-Brexit-Trump-BBC-Hysteria) Syndrome? Or is it all down to Evan Davis being Evan Davis and not Eddie Mair? 


Evan's introduction, for example, included the following - and this really is a genuine transcript, not a piece of satire on my part!:
On Brexit Theresa May says there will be no second public vote. But could there be a swing towards the idea? We'll get the opinions of Professor John Curtice, Justine Greening and Labour's Dame Margaret Beckett.
I laughed, rolled my eyes and gave in to my eyebrows' very strong urge to impersonate Fiona Bruce after that.

The first item though concerned Donald Trump and what Evan called an "important" development in the Robert Mueller investigation. His guest - one Angela Bernstein - was even more emphatic, calling it "very, very important". She clearly wasn't a Trump fan. 

The second item was launched by talk of a second referendum, with Evan saying "Let's focus on it". And focus on it PM duly did, with pollster Sir John Curtice, pro-Second People's Vote Remainer MP Justine Greening and Dame Margaret Beckett. Dame Margaret sounded close to endorsing a Second People's Vote too but wouldn't entirely commit herself, provoking Evan to press her and sound somewhat exasperated when she wouldn't clearly, boldly and decisively state her (obvious) view on the matter. 

Then it was onto audiobooks (good or bad?), prompted by the sainted Michelle Obama's new book, with TES editor/Radio 4 Front Row host Stig Abell and  feminist publisher Carmen Callil of Virago Press presenting both sides of the argument, and our Evan not sounding like an audiobooks fan.

And then poor Evan got Trollope and Tolstoy confused and had to excuse himself. (I kiddeth thou not).

Then Evan announced that is was important to register the moment that a second MP announced that he has AIDS. 

And the much-reported Syrian refugee bullying school story came next, with 'the bystander question' being discussed with a Canadian psychologist Linda Papadopoulos.

And, leaping one item, the programme ended with a United Nations-related celebration of reggae with a guest who called it "a music of resistance".


The surprise item here for me was the latest instalment of Mark Mardell's Brexit: A Love Story? 

I thought that had finished. And it used to be on The World at One.

But, no, here was Mark Mardell back again, with the Simon Bates 'Our Tune' theme tune, and - apparently - the second episode of the second series, with more episodes to come. (Be still my beating heart!)

I noted down the contributors as I listened tonight and found that Mark had talked to:

(1) Former Mrs May advisor (and declared Remain voter) Katie Perrior.
(2) Former David Cameron communications director (pro-Remain) Sir Craig (no relation) Oliver.
(3) Former senior minister under Mrs May (and declared Remain voter), Damian Green.
(4) Former Lib Dem coalition minister (and declared Remain voter) David Laws.
(5) Pro-Brexit MP Stewart Jackson (described by Mark as being an "ardent pro-Brexit MP").
(6) Former (tricky to place) Mrs May advisor Chris Brannigan.
(7) Former (strongly pro-EU, pro-People's Vote) mandarin Lord Kerr.
(8) Former George Osborne advisor (anti-Brexit, pro-People's Vote) James Chapman, and
(9) (Anti-Brexit, pro-People's Vote) Conservative MP Heidi Allen. 

The labelling (or lack of labelling) by Mark was striking here.

I've tried to label the nine contributors mentioned as accurately and fairly as I can - via lots of listening to what they said and even more Googling about what they've previously said. But Mark Mardell didn't provide any background, Brexit-opinion-wise, on seven of them.

Heidi Allen was one exception. Mark said she'd "campaigned hard for Remain" but simply let her speak.

The other exception - the ninth was Stewart Jackson MP.

As cited above, his first contribution saw Mark describe him as an "ardent pro-Brexit MP". His second contribution saw Mark call him a "pro-Brexit MP".

I know we're getting somewhat into heavy detail here, but heavy detail counts. And Mark Mardell's 'bias by labelling' here is absolutely textbook.

More importantly, however, was Mark's narrative, and this, in large part, amounted to how Mrs May's advisors, Fiona Hill and (strongly pro-Brexit) Nick Timothy, gave uninspirational Mrs May confidence. And how, as a result, she "gave in to a hardline vision".

(Seriously Mark Mardell of the BBC? Mrs May giving in to a hardline pro-Brexit vision? What are you smoking, or drinking, Mark?)

They refused to talk to Mark Mardell - as Mark kept grumpily repeating. And they were the main 'baddies' here.

So: 9 contributors: 7 Remainers. 1 Leaver. One hard to place. And Mark Mardell.

And don't forget the 'bias by labelling' either.

Please note my list above and listen to it for yourselves. Stewart Jackson was the only obvious pro-Brexit voice here among a sea of Brexit doubters, and enemies, and Mark. Mardell.

And this whole PM was very BBC.


  1. Mair fair? Have a care there!

  2. That's how Evan's brain works:

    Tolstoy and Trollope - Big books from the 19th century.

    Thackeray and Turgenev - Big books from the 19th century.

    Right wing Tories - Wrong.

    Globalist economics - March of history, get out of the way.

    Gay - good.

    Black - oppressed.

    White - privileged.

    Audiobooks - bad.

    Farage - Dangerous

    Paddington Bear - Good and not pretend.

  3. I'd like to lodge a complaint about a BBC Radio obviously I haven't written to the BBC Complaints Unit as that would be as pointless as a programme called Pointless.

    Instead, I'm airing the complaint here because there are some similarities with the Evan Davis Opinion Show. I am referring of course to the David Aaronovitch Opinion Show, that goes under a false name just as Stephen Yaxley-Lennon does - its implausible moniker being "The Briefing Room".

    But there's no doubt this is just cover for us being sucked into David's cerebrellum where we can examine the things that are troubling him without him going to the trouble of telling us why they are troubling him. For instance he never admits he is an extreme Remainiac and an extreme no-borders pro-migrationist.

    To be honest he can't tell us that because if he did we might then get suspicious about why he gave the guy from the Irish Times such a soft ride on the N Ireland border issue.


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