Save the editor who gave me hell

Observations on BBC journalism

You need not swallow a word of what I'm about to tell you, because I am only a single source. I don't have notes to prove my story, but I'm going to tell you anyway, because all of it is true.

The BBC has announced who will review its editorial coverage after the Hutton report. Friends at the BBC have already called me to say how concerned they are about the cautious natures of those chosen. One of the journalists whose conduct the panel is examining is Kevin Marsh, editor of the Today programme and my boss for eight years.

I worked for Marsh as a presenter and reporter on PM, The World at One and The World This Weekend. He started with the editorship of only one programme but built up a full set of three, like a clever child playing a game of Happy Families. The picture that has emerged of him - based on that photograph with the old-fashioned Bakelite headphones round his neck, the sober look and the conservative-looking clothes - is entirely misleading. He is not conservative, or even nice. We all had the good sense to be wary of him at best and terrified at worst. For a while, he kept a note stuck to his door with a single strand of Sellotape, blasting out the warning: "No, I haven't got a fucking minute".

Marsh turned shouting into an Olympic sport. At one meeting, he yelled across the room at a new male producer who was careless enough to be five feet tall and as skinny as a stick. "Where do you buy your clothes, then? Ladybird?" He inspired loathing in ambitious male producers, who knew he would always be one step ahead, and a kind of masochistic devo-tion among female researchers. He loved to test the ingenuity of new reporters. He commissioned my first report in four words. "Agincourt. Loathing. For tomorrow." The next test was: "Brigitte Bardot. Birthday. By Sunday."

The same BBC friends who have told me how depressed they are by the choice of the investigative panel are coruscating about the performance of the acting director general, Mark Byford. One reporter who rang me sounded like a Hillman Imp running out of petrol as she spat and choked about the awfulness of Byford's performance on Radio 4's Feedback programme. It was here that he mumbled about the undesirability of exclusive stories. That edict is anathema to someone such as Marsh.

His mantra is that broadcasting is a privilege. Don't insult the audience by telling them what they already know. Tell them something they don't, just so long as it's true and precise. Anyone stupid enough to present Marsh with a report that ended with the phrase "only time will tell" had their script, their tape, and possibly their body, thrown into the bin. The Tories' suggestion that the BBC licence fee be scrapped would be justified if we got the kind of broadcaster that approved of such vapid journalism.

All who have been insulted by Marsh at the BBC will be dying to punish him. But he is without question the most impressive, rigorous and intellectual editor I have worked for. And you can't accuse me of being biased. I didn't like him very much.

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