The BBC's political programming, like the Tory party, is pompous, exclusive and self-regarding

Open letter to Greg Dyke

Dear Greg,
Delighted to hear that your six-month review of the BBC's "worthy but dull" (your words not mine) political programming has come to an end, which will no doubt also be the fate of some of your shows. And not before time.

The impressive Sian Kevill, the former editor of Newsnight, has had the unenviable job of finding out what is wrong with On the Record, Question Time, Breakfast with Frost, Despatch Box, Newsnight, etc.

Now, I know you're not in the business of dumbing down the Beeb's political output. This review is about trying to make political shows that are popular but not populist - a polite way of saying you need to increase your audience. I also know you like straight talking, so here it is.

The problem with your current political programmes is that they are almost all male and grey. The problem with entertainment shows is that they're almost all male and gay.

Don't get me wrong, some of my best friends are grey - and male and middle-aged and angry and humourless. But these are not the people with whom I choose to spend my Sunday mornings in bed, nor my late nights. The unremitting diet of angry, middle-aged, male politicians being interviewed by angry, middle-aged, male presenters is about as appetising as a bowl of soggy Coco Pops. Like family, you can't choose your politicians, but you can choose the people who front the shows.

And it's not just the presenters who are to blame, it's the formats. I know for a fact, for instance, that John Humphrys is one of the most sardonic, sexy, amusing men alive. So why do we never get a glimpse of that during On the Record? I have been told, but never seen any evidence of it (on or off the screen), that Jeremy Paxman has a sense of humour. Let's see it.

BBC executives have a very narrow and so far inflexible concept of what constitutes serious political programming - like the Tory party, it is pompous, old-fashioned, self-regarding, exclusive and excluding. Where are the women presenters, where is the humour, where are the regional accents, where is the wit? The tone is all wrong, as is the attitude to the guests, which is all too often angry and contemptuous. If I want a shouting match, I'll call my ex-husband.

The truth, Greg, is that there is too much politics and not enough current affairs. The shows worth studying are Have I Got News For You and Radio 5's Sunday Service. Both blend pure politics with a healthy dose of current affairs, wit and an endearing ability not to take themselves too seriously. Consequently, they do not allow their guests to, either. They are both produced by independent television companies, too - Griff Rhys Jones's Talkback Productions and Bob Geldof's Ten Alps, respectively. The commercial reality is that they either produce successful programmes or they don't survive, unlike the BBC, which is an unaccountable, tax-funded, self-perpetuating oligarchy.

But then, there's not a lot you can do about that, Greg.

Yours, Amanda



As Ann Widdecombe might say, there is something of the day about Richard and Judy, who have just launched their new show at 5pm on Channel 4.

I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. I mainly did the former, but in all the wrong places.

Clearly, the king and queen of daytime chat now want to be taken seriously. They kicked off the week with a fearless investigation into an evil man who is currently terrorising housewives across the nation - Bin Raidem. And he is not alone. The Raidems are a cell operating throughout Middle England, sneaking around in the dead of morning, stealing garbage from people's wheelie bins and then inspecting it. They claim to be government workers conducting a survey into the junk mail people throw away. Housewives from Oldham were having none of it - invasion of privacy, they cried, a breach of our fundamental human rights. We feel defiled, dirty! Where is Cherie Booth when we need her?

Richard and Judy felt their pain. They felt dirty, too, or had done when they had suffered at the hands of their very own Bin Raidem - but he was working for a Sunday redtop.

They also felt Amanda Holden and Les Dennis's pain as they talked frankly about the affair that almost wrecked their marriage. So frankly, indeed, that no one even mentioned that the cad who briefly stole the fair Amanda's knickers - sorry, heart - was Neil Morrissey.

"We feel as though we've got a second chance," simpered Amanda, reaching for Les's hand. You were left with the distinct impression that their marriage had about as much chance of longevity as Richard and Judy's new show. I hope I'm wrong in both cases.


Chivalry is no more dead than the sex drive of ageing rockers. When Paul McCartney's record company tried to insist that the person doing the interview with Sir Paul on GMTV be "twentysomething with edge" to fit in with his image (stop sniggering), the TV bosses dumped the interview. Paul "almost sixtysomething with no edge left" McCartney was appalled. EMI grovelled; GMTV reconsidered, then sent its oldest woman reporter, the rather scrumptious Penny Smith, 42, to do the deed. Sir Paul looked old enough to be her father, his pallid skin not complemented by a rather nasty plum rinse in his hair.

This article first appeared in Who needs 12 when one will do?

2001-12-03