As I See It: STEVE SAMPSON says the corporation needs to value its talent or it will lose it
And there I was thinking it’s only the government who are shambolic. The BBC announces it is killing the Andrew Neil Show. Cue uproar. Then it tries a u-turn – “actually we are in talks with him”. Sure. You can fool the people some of the time.
No debate – he is the number one political inquisitor. Fair enough if some mandarin kills off his programme. They were doing that anyway, scheduling it at 11pm on a Thursday. But they needed to couple that with his next big thing. Neil is in the same pantheon as Robin Day and David Dimbleby. You don’t treat the talent at this level lightly.
He was a hugely successful editor of The Sunday Times, which didn’t suit owner Rupert Murdoch. There was only room for one ego. Murdoch famously answered the phone to him: “Well, well, well. If it isn’t the great f****ing Andrew Neil”. Bolshie editor of The Sun, Kelvin MacKenzie told Neil he should make that the title of his book.
It didn’t impede his career any. Maggie Thatcher loved him. Neil likes to play the Scottish working class card. He is anything but. He went to blue-blazered Paisley Grammar School. When it was threatened with closure he got Maggie to reverse it. He is posh-ish. Even English audiences can understand him.
They should give him Question Time which is labouring with Fiona Bruce at the helm. Or, better still, give him Newsnight with Emily Maitlis and let them turn it into a barnstorming TV conflict show. She is screaming out for a heavyweight partner on a programme that is fast becoming irrelevant.
Emily got into hot water for a supposedly biased introduction to a Dominic Cummings story. Nonsense, she was grabbing the viewers’ attention right from the off. This is a world of opinions, the stronger the better. Everyone can get their point of view published. Been on Twitter recently? So why does the BBC hide behind creating a so-called level playing field. That’s the excuse of the less gifted. I’m only amazed Sky News hasn’t shown the way.
Piers Morgan throws hand grenades every morning on GMB. He is Britain’s most opinionated presenter – and the ratings show the public love him. Sarah Smith, the BBC’s Scotland editor, uses a single word out of place and spends 24 hours apologising. Naga Munchetty criticises Donald Trump and has to be rescued by public opinion.
The BBC has an extraordinary talent pool of journalists. Hugh Pym and Fergus Walsh have been especially brilliant during the pandemic, broadcasting every day right in the thick of it. Katya Adler and Laura Kuenssberg were excellent during Brexit. That’s how you measure your talent – when the big story explodes and they step up.
It’s the bosses who need a shake up. They simply couldn’t lace Andrew Neil’s boots. And that might just be the problem – he probably strikes as much terror into the mandarins as he does the politicians.
It would be hugely ironic if he ended up at Times Radio, Murdoch’s new rival to BBC Radio 4. Don’t rule it out. Rupert is the ultimate pragmatist.
Steve Sampson is former Assistant, Northern and Scottish Editor of The Sun newspaper, and a Director of Trinity Mirror publications. He was a launch presenter of Radio5 Live, founder of First Press Publishing and contributes to the BBC. Based in Scotland, he is an investor/owner across a series of digital initiatives, and a media adviser.