Cries & Whispers

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The Independent Culture
MARTYN LEWIS, the newscaster with the twin penchant for cats and good news, is reported to be losing his position at the helm of the great flagship they call The Nine O'Clock News. He is not happy about this. He may be in a minority. His remarks about good news were silly - it is up to Disgusted Tunbridge Wells to complain about the news being bad, and up to us media people gently to remind him that if we burbled on about all the places where wars have not broken out, bombs have not gone off, and ministers have acted with perfect propriety, he would soon switch off. But we all make silly remarks. What is worse about Lewis is his manner. He gives the impression of a man straining for gravitas, and so inevitably fails to achieve it.

The bad news is that the BBC is expected to replace Lewis with Peter Sissons, another performer who is prone to self-importance. This is a cloud with a silver lining in the form of the Question Time chair, which Sissons will leave, after an unhappy attempt to live up to the style and charm of Sir Robin Day. You don't have to be stylish and charming to read the news, though it helps. What you do have to be is likeable, a welcome presence in the nation's sitting room. Has no one thought of promoting Edward Stourton, who serves up the BBC's lunchtime news with due weight, but no pomposity?

IT IS always a sad moment in the life of a man on the fringes of showbusiness when a beautiful film star gets married. I can't have been the only one who raised a schadenfreudian cheer a couple of years ago when Julia Roberts decided she couldn't go through with becoming Mrs Kiefer Sutherland. Now she has become Mrs Lyle Lovett, and I find myself almost rejoicing. Lovett is an admirable character. He is a country-and-western singer who has not just a sense of irony but a caustic wit. He acts too, notably as the creepy cop in The Player, but in a spirit of I- don't-need-this, bordering on I-find-it-all- rather-absurd. He has looks that not even his wife could describe as good: the bone structure of the Wicked Witch of the West, the hairstyle of Douglas Hurd in Spitting Image, and the ears of Andrew Caddick. Best of all, he is a journalist, or was - he read journalism at college in Texas, and his lyrics are full of deft journalistic touches. In the movies, members of my trade tend to be rugged, brave, existential loners, who none the less end up getting the girl. In life, things are often sadly different. Lyle, the brotherhood of hacks salutes you.

LAST SUNDAY my colleagues Allison Pearson and Peter Koenig took a sceptical look at Producer Choice, the Birtian revolution whereby everybody at the BBC charges each other for services rendered, creative and technical jobs are lost, financial and administrative jobs are gained, and morale plumbs even greater depths than in the dark days of Mrs Thatcher.

If there is a more important issue than this in the arts at the moment, I can't think of it. The BBC is not perfect, but it is a national treasure. Pearson and Koenig argued that Producer Choice was a real threat to the BBC's survival, and gave some examples of the specific lunacies to which it has led - radio people taping records from the Broadcasting House library, for instance, so they don't have to pay the hire fee again. I will be happy to publish others, if readers in London W12, W1, WC2, Bristol or wherever feel like sending them in. Equally, if anyone has striking evidence that the system is working, I will be happy to publish that. Correspondents' names will be withheld if they wish, but please, no anonymous letters.

(Photograph omitted)

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