The BBC has now received nearly 600 complaints over Eddie Mair’s interview with Boris Johnson on the Andrew Marr Show.
A BBC spokesman said the total number of complaints was 589, having risen from 384 yesterday. The Corporation says it has been contacted by 21 people who voiced their appreciation of the programme.
Boris Johnson’s father, Stanley, yesterday told LBC Radio
the interview was “one of the most disgusting pieces of journalism I’ve listened to for a very long time” and argued “the BBC sank about as low as it could.”
In the interview, which has been called a ‘bicycle crash’ for Johnson, Eddie Mair asked the Mayor of London if he was “a nasty piece of work”, and attacked his record ahead of a BBC Two documentary probing Johnson’s life, which was watched by 2.4 million people last night.
Johnson struggled to answer questions about his dismissal from The Times after he fabricated a quote, giving information to a friend who was planning to assault a journalist and lying to Conservative party leader Michael Howard about an extramarital affair.
At an event in London yesterday Johnson said Eddie Mair had been right to challenge him, and that he had done a “splendid job”.
: “He was perfectly within his rights to have a bash at me – in fact it would have been shocking if he hadn’t. If a BBC presenter can’t attack a nasty Tory politician, what’s the world coming to?…
“I should think he’ll get an Oscar, it was an Oscar-winning performance. I think he’ll get a Pulitzer.”
Responding to the complaints, and Stanley Johnson’s criticism, a BBC spokesman said “We believe this was a fair interview which took in issues facing London and the wider political landscape as well as looking towards tonight’s TV portrait programme.
“As the documentary is biographical exploring controversial episodes in the Mayor’s life was considered appropriate. Eddie’s line of questioning attempted to elicit responses to direct questions that were not being answered.”
The BBC also said it was important to recognise that the complaints were in the context of an audience of 1.7 million live viewers. The interview clip was the most watched item on BBC News Online on Sunday.
Mair was presenting the show as one of several stand-ins covering for Andrew Marr while he continues his recovery from a stroke.
This is not the first time Mair’s interviewing has made headlines. During a radio interview in 2009, Mair persuaded former government minister John Hutton to admit – on the eighth attempt – that he had been the anonymous source of an earlier quote warning Gordon Brown would be a “fucking disaster” as Prime Minister.
Read the transcript of Mair’s attack on Johnson (courtesy of the BBC):
EDDIE MAIR: (over) I know you can talk about this all day but I want to talk about you.
BORIS JOHNSON: Well that’s exactly what I’m trying to avoid.
EDDIE MAIR: This documentary.
BORIS JOHNSON: Thanks for nothing.
EDDIE MAIR: You haven’t seen this documentary, have you?
BORIS JOHNSON: I have not, no.
EDDIE MAIR: I have.
BORIS JOHNSON: Right, well Eddie, I mean…
EDDIE MAIR: (over) Why did you agree to it?
BORIS JOHNSON: …I think that’s over and above the call of duty, if I may say so.
EDDIE MAIR: Why did you agree to do it?
BORIS JOHNSON: I’ll tell you. It’s very simple. It’s like, it’s like, when the News of the World ring up and they say, or whatever, you know, and they say listen, you’re going to be in this story. You can either co-operate or not cooperate. And Michael Cockerill the producer and presenter, the guy who did it…
EDDIE MAIR: Michael Cockerill blackmailed you, is that what you’re saying?
BORIS JOHNSON: I, no. Well, effectively, yeah (laughs). What he said was, look, the BBC have commissioned this. It is going to appear, and so we faced a choice, either to try to help or rather prissily to just stand on one side and let them do whatever they wanted and I thought on the whole, it was probably wiser, given that it was going to happen anyway, to try to say something, rather than leave the field clear to you know…people who might want to put the boot in.
EDDIE MAIR: Let me ask you about some of the things that came up in the documentary.
BORIS JOHNSON: Right. I haven’t seen it, so you know … 5
EDDIE MAIR: But this happened in your life, so you know about this. The Times let you go after you made up a quote. Why did you make up a quote?
BORIS JOHNSON: Well. This…again, you know, these are, these are big terms for what happened. Well, I can tell you the whole thing, I think… you know… Are you sure our viewers wouldn’t want to hear more about housing in London…
EDDIE MAIR: (over) Well, alright. If you don’t want to talk about, if you don’t want to talk about the made up quote, let me talk about something…
BORIS JOHNSON: (over) But I will tell you. It was a long and lamentable story…
EDDIE MAIR: Okay. But you made a quote up.
BORIS JOHNSON: Well, what happened was that… I ascribed events that were supposed to have taken place before the death of Piers Gaviston to events that actually took place after the death of Piers Gaviston…
EDDIE MAIR: (over) Yes. You made something up. Let me ask about anotherlittle, er…
BORIS JOHNSON: (over) Well, I mean, I mildly sandpapered somethingsomebody said, and yes it’s very embarrassing and I’m very sorry about it.
EDDIE MAIR: Let me ask you about a bare-faced lie. When you were in Michael Howard’s team, you denied to him you were having an affair. It turned out you were and he sacked you for that. Why did you lie to your Party leader?
BORIS JOHNSON: Well, I mean again, I’m… with great respect… On that, I never had any conversation with Michael Howard about that matter and, you know, I don’t propose…
EDDIE MAIR: (over) You did lie to him.
BORIS JOHNSON: Well, you know, I don’t propose to go in to all that again.
EDDIE MAIR: I don’t blame you.
BORIS JOHNSON: No, well why should I? I’ve been through, you know, that question a lot with the, well, watch the documentary. Why don’t we talk about something else?
EDDIE MAIR: Well the programme also includes – well this is about your integrity.
BORIS JOHNSON: Okay
EDDIE MAIR: The programme includes your reaction as you listen to a phone 6call in which your friend Darius Guppy, asks you to supply the address of a journalist…
BORIS JOHNSON: Yes.
EDDIE MAIR: …so that he can have him physically assaulted. The words “beaten up” and “broken ribs” are said to you…
BORIS JOHNSON: Yes.
EDDIE MAIR: …and you, having heard that, you tell your friend, Darius Guppy, you will supply the address. What does that say about you Boris Johnson?
BORIS JOHNSON: (over) Well I …
EDDIE MAIR: (over) Aren’t you in fact, making up quotes, lying to your party leader, wanting to be part of someone being physically assaulted? You’re a nasty piece of work, aren’t you?
BORIS JOHNSON: Well, Eddie, I think of all three things I would dispute …
EDDIE MAIR: You don’t factually dispute them.
BORIS JOHNSON: Well I do. And I can, you know, if we had a long time, which we don’t, I could explain that I think all three interpretations you’re putting on those things aren’t wholly fair. And certainly, the final thing which you raise, which is the case of my old friend Darius, yes, it was certainly true that he was in a bit of state and I did humour him in a long phone conversation, from which absolutely nothing eventuated and… you know, there you go. But I think if any of us had our phone conversations bugged, they might, you know, people say all sorts of fantastical things whist they’re talking to their friends.
EDDIE MAIR: But even Conrad Black, your friend. Convicted fraudster, even he says he doesn’t trust you completely.
BORIS JOHNSON: I hadn’t seen that Conrad had said that, but obviously, you know, nonetheless I have got a great admiration for Conrad who in my view is a pretty good journalist and a pretty good proprietor.
EDDIE MAIR: (over) Now, if you dispute some of these things, you can be absolutely direct and honest and straightforward with me. Whenever you’re asked about Prime Minister and goodness knows, Michael Cockerill had a go, you obfuscate, well, I want to be a pop star, I want to be painter, I want to do all of those things. But you never actually say … (interjection) …. I want it clearly, plain as a pike staff, of course like many politicians you want to be Prime Minister. Why don’t you do just say the words? What’s the problem?
BORIS JOHNSON: Well, if I may, permission to obfuscate. 7
EDDIE MAIR: Oh, please don’t.
BORIS JOHNSON: Can I just go back to what I said before, which is…
EDDIE MAIR: (over) No, don’t repeat yourself. The documentary is full of people, your sister for example gives a blistering performance, who talk about your ambitions. Your father even suggests they could change the rules so you could party leader and Prime Minister, but you, the words will not cross your lips. Why not?
BORIS JOHNSON: Because it’s not going to happen …
EDDIE MAIR: No, no. But it’s about your desire, not whether it’s going to happen.
BORIS JOHNSON: Well I’ll tell you what I want…
EDDIE MAIR: (over) You’re not going to land on the moon either. But do you want to be Prime Minister. Say it.
BORIS JOHNSON: Well, all I want is for David Cameron to win this election,which he deserves to do.
EDDIE MAIR: Do you want to be Prime Minister?
BORIS JOHNSON: I want to do everything I possibly can to help, and in those circumstances it is completely nonsensical for me to indulge you know this increasingly… hysterical…
EDDIE MAIR: (over) You could end it all just by saying what you know to be true.
BORIS JOHNSON: What, that I don’t want to?
EDDIE MAIR: That you want to be Prime Minister.
BORIS JOHNSON: Oh, come on. Look, what I want is to spend the next – my time remaining as Mayor to do as well as I can as Mayor of London. I’ve got three and a bit years to go…
EDDIE MAIR: (over) What should the viewers make of your inability to give a straight answer to a straight question?
BORIS JOHNSON: I think people would rightly conclude that I don’t want to talk about this subject because I want to talk about what I think should happen, which is the government deserves to win the next election and indeed I think it’s a measure of the triviality of politics, that I thought I was coming on to talk about the budget and housing in London, and, you know, you’ve – I mean, I don’t mind all these questions about this other stuff, but I think it is more important that we look at the things that are happening now in the economy and we look at what the government is doing to help. And by the way the reason I want David Cameron to win and the reason I don’t want Ed Milliband to win is because I’m genuinely alarmed by some of the things the Labour Party is saying, and I strongly agree with what Peter Mandelson and Tony Blair have said about Labour, which is that I don’t think they’re offering anything approaching the right prospectus for the country. And so – look at the budget. Look at what… (interjection)
EDDIE MAIR: We don’t have any time I’m afraid …
BORIS JOHNSON: What people want to know is – they don’t care about phone conversations with my friends twenty years ago, they don’t care some ludicrous, so-called made up quote, and what’s the third accusation? I can’t remember.
EDDIE MAIR: Lying to Michael Howard.
BORIS JOHNSON: Michael Howard! What they care about…
EDDIE MAIR: Where is he now, eh?
BORIS JOHNSON: Yeah, exactly. What they care about Eddie, is what is happening in the UK economy and who of the two parties has the best prospectus for recovery. I mean if you look at what George Osborne put forward this week – last week rather, in the budget, I think that is the way forward. I think it’s unbelievable that Labour, who’ve got absolutely nothing to say …
EDDIE MAIR: (over) I hate to cut you off.
BORIS JOHNSON: No, no, you’re not cutting me off. Labour have got nothing to say about how to help people on middle incomes who need their homes…
EDDIE MAIR: (over) Are you going to watch it tomorrow?
BORIS JOHNSON: No ,I’m certainly not, not after what you’ve told me. I’m not going to watch it.
EDDIE MAIR: Boris Johnson, thank you.