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6 February 2019

The mysterious sanity of Evan Davis

News presenters all go mad in the end. So why is Evan Davis brisk, frank – and still sane?

By Antonia Quirke

“Hello there!” trilled Evan Davis, as he tends to do, opening another edition of PM (5pm, Mondays to Fridays). His happiness in the role has always been clear, but the levity and intrigue in his voice three months into the job has surely reached a mysteriously marvellous pitch. The way he says “Meanwhile, in SW1…” Rarely has what’s going on in Downing Street sounded more like a series of hair-raisingly unlikely throws on the roulette wheel. He is also a micro-master of the musical chuckle: “We do not know what the House of Commons is FOR,” barked Jean-Claude Juncker in a clip. In the studio, Davis’s little chortle might have been stray notes on the tubular bells.

Yet not a moment of it sounds confected. When seriously and superbly marshalling commentators (“as briefly as you can, what options are still on the table?”) Davis doesn’t suddenly change tone. He has a way of making all questioning, all discourse – explicitly buoyant or the opposite – feel part of a whole. It’s a talent. Must we stockpile baby food? Could we use Google Maps to literally behold how others manage their borders? Can you bear to add anything, Caroline, or are you happy to move on? Davis is brisk, frank – and still sane.

News presenters all go mad in the end. They either pretend to be permanently angry, or they become like airline pilots who are enjoying being nice far too much – the ones who refuse to get off the intercom and start telling you about the route or the weather at your destination. “We’re just going to take a nip over Germany”. Like we care! Towards the close of his tenure on PM, Eddie Mair had turned into a slightly sinister mother hen – always seconds from saying: “There’s a civil war in Venezuela, boys and girls. There’s a lorry carrying toxic chemicals just overturned in Yeovil. Do be careful everybody.” And he’s still a little like this on his new call-in show on LBC (4pm, Mondays to Fridays). “It’s Lisa Aziz. How are you, Lisa? Here’s Henry Newman from the think tank Open Europe. How are you Henry? Chris in France is on the line. How are you Chris?”

“Ah, I’m OK, thanks Eddie, yes. Very well. Er. Erm…” 

Radio 4

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This article appears in the 06 Feb 2019 issue of the New Statesman, Broken Europe