The battle of the egos on radio has become a turn-off

'Humphrys and Naughtie know what a waste of time it is hauling in the powerful'

THE OTHER day in the Telegraph Oliver Pritchett was listing some of the main landmarks in his daily domestic life, and named one as leaping- to-turn-off-the-Today-programme.

I know what he means. I have that moment myself. Every day. It usually comes when one of the presenters says, "and we'll have the minister himself here to reply to those questions in a moment".

That is a moment to avoid. The exchanges between minister and presenter, interviewer and office-holder, Mr Naughtie and Mr Nasty, are always the least informative and least interesting moments on radio or TV.

John Humphrys is an excellent interviewer when stretching out, as in On The Ropes, but on Today nobody seems to land a punch. There was a wonderfully good example the other day, which was so uninformative and unproductive that I was paralysed and couldn't get to the set to turn it off, between John Humphrys and John Prescott.

Humphrys was trying to get Prescott to say whether or not the Queen's speech would contain Prescott's transport plan. Prescott refused to commit himself, and kept telling Humphrys about all the jolly good environmental things he'd already done. Humphrys wasn't interested and kept asking about the transport plan. Prescott refused to be drawn and kept repeating what he'd already said...

In other words, if the entire interview was given to an English comprehension class to summarise, it would emerge like this.

Humphrys: "Will you tell us whether your much heralded transport plan will be in the next Queen's speech?"

Prescott: "No, I won't but I'll tell you about some good environmental things we've done which you similarly doubted we'd ever do..."

End of interview. Now, on the Today programme you could avoid wasting five minutes of guff by simply getting Humphrys to say right at the outside what question he wanted to ask, and Prescott to say what he was going to say instead of answering the question.

It would take 20 seconds, save me and Pritchett switching off and give more time for the good things on the Today programme. Yes, there are some. Almost always they occur when the presenters are not involved, when Humphrys, Naughtie, MacGregor etc shut up for a moment, after saying: "Here's Alan Little reporting from Moscow" or "With more thoughts on digital TV, here's our media correspondent Torin Douglas". Recently I heard Little do an admirable little sketch on life in Moscow, and Torin Douglas casting splendid cold water on the digital revolution (were you listening, Birt?), because they were well-planned little one-man efforts, not would-be clashes with the mighty which always end up as two people hitting each other with inflated bladders.

I'm sure in their heart of hearts Humphrys and Naughtie know what a complete waste of time it is hauling the powerful in to pretend to bare their soul. But they love it too much to give it up. It gives them an entree into the power game, a toe-hold in the sparring ring. In the the Radio Times recently John Humphrys was subjected to one of those over-the-phone chats called a Questionnaire, and he said:

"The 'professional' interviewees are easier because you are, in a sense, playing the same game. People like Michael Heseltine, John Prescott and Ken Clarke are the interviewer's ideal because they will engage. One of the problems with the present lot of ministers is that many of them are well trained to stay on the message..."

Then why on earth get them in to play "the game"? That is one mistake that Broadcasting House doesn't make. This is the new Sunday morning programme on Radio 4, presented by Eddie Mair, which for an hour wanders round the world chatting about the news to people who know a lot about it but are not implicated. Yesterday they had Germaine Greer and Charles Wheeler chatting about Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, and they talked more sense than I have heard elsewhere on this tacky subject.

Meanwhile, back at the Today programme, I fully expect the weather forecast one day to evolve into this: Humphrys: "So, Michael Fish, what are you going to tell us that the weather has in store today?" Fish: "Well, it's going to be another unsettled day ..." Humphrys: "That's not what you told us on Wednesday." Fish: "No. That's because conditions were different then." Humphrys: "Ah! You're blaming conditions, are you?" Fish: "No. All I'm saying is that looking ahead over the next few days..." Humphrys: "That's all very well, but public perception of weather forecasters is not very positive, is it?" Fish: "Be that as it may, there will be rain today in the South..." Humphrys: "I'm going to have to ask that question again. Public perception..."

Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

    They fled war in Syria...

    ...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
    From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

    Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

    Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
    Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

    Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

    Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
    From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

    Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

    From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
    Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

    Kelis interview

    The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea