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24 January 2020

The BBC’s cancellation of The Victoria Derbyshire Show ends a lifeline for ordinary people

The outrage across the media world is a tribute to a programme that gave a voice to the voiceless  

By Jack Monroe

I shall declare my interest early on; the soon-to-be-Mrs Jack was the editor of The Victoria Derbyshire Show, and it’s where we met. I was running late, the morning after a very whisky-soaked night before, having won a landmark libel judgement against Katie Hopkins and stayed out with my lawyer and friends until the wee small hours. I was still wearing the suit I had posed on the steps of the High Court in 24 hours earlier. She walked over to me, holding out a stiff hand. “‘I’m Louisa.’ ‘I’m Jack, can I get some makeup?’ ‘No. You’re late.’”

I thought she was rude, she thought I was tardy and a gobby pain in the arse. But I started watching The Victoria Derbyshire Show religiously every morning, looking for Louisa’s name in the credits, but also being astounded by the stories the show told. Eventually she and I got in touch with one another, and the rest, as they say, is history.

But as with all love stories, this one comes with a tragic Shakespearean twist. This week, the BBC announced that The Victoria Derbyshire Show would be ended as part of cost-cutting measures. It’s curious that this was announced in the wake of Samira Ahmed’s groundbreaking equal pay victory – the show has a largely female-led team.  

Victoria first learned the news through the Times newspaper. That’s not an appropriate way to treat any member of staff, not least a multi-award-winning presenter with 30 years of service to groundbreaking journalism. The decision seems to reflect how little the BBC values the programme, yet the huge outpouring of anger and bewilderment on social media shows that it was valued far more outside the walls of Broadcasting House, by the very people the BBC Charter purports to serve. 

The Victoria Derbyshire Show was created to deliver original journalism and, specifically, report on stories that affect everyday people and make a difference to their lives. It wasn’t created for the Westminster bubble, or the chattering classes, but for ordinary, working-class women across the UK. The show broke the rules of traditional broadcast television, time and again, in its successful quest to air women’s voices and represent diverse groups and communities.

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Perhaps that explains why the largely white, male bosses at the BBC didn’t see its worth – because for once, something wasn’t made for them. I love Radio 4 and Newsnight as much as the next political nerd, but The Victoria Derbyshire Show gently pored over the cracks in our communities, and made people feel heard and deserving of a platform.

It’s rare that a BBC decision unifies viewers from the Guardian to the Sun, the left and the right, the showbiz world and serious news broadcasters. But these disparate voices are all clamouring to understand why such a popular, audience-led and original programme fell victim to cuts. 

Victoria Derbyshire changed my life – and many others. I use my own anecdotes merely as an introduction, an insight into the life and livelihood of the largely female-led team who truly delivered public service journalism. Millions watched as four footballers told the horrific stories of the abuse they endured as children by paedophile coach Barry Bennell. That interview led to hundreds of other victims coming forward, with dozens of other coaches implicated and questioned, and successful court cases and trials. It led to justice for hundreds of little boys – now men – who were finally heard and believed. 

Louisa edited the programme for three years. She probably won’t thank me for writing this, but it gave me a huge insight into the everyday and everynight blood, sweat and tears that went into every second of that show. I could talk about the 4am wake-up calls, the dates interrupted by phone calls from suicidal former guests, and the aftercare that the team provided for people long out of their guardianship. The mentored and nurtured interns, and the mixed-race young man who grew up in care and who is now an award-winning journalist and presenter in his own right. I have seen first-hand the lives that Victoria and Louisa have changed immeasurably, the people given voices for their campaigns, the shelves of prestigious awards, and the dozens and dozens of handwritten thank you cards flooding our hallway, stuffed behind the Bafta. 

Victoria Derbyshire was – and is – a spotlight on the gravest issues in our austerity-ridden society. I may be biased, but the show’s team is truly exceptional, and every one of Louisa’s colleagues say the same.

Jack Monroe is a campaigner and the author of books including Cooking on a Bootstrap and A Girl Called Jack

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