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Peston vs Mair - now that's a contest worth hearing

Back in the good old days, before the world economy went into
meltdown, business reporting used to be a straightforward affair: a
correspondent would come on the radio, tell us whether the FTSE was
up or down, and we could move to important matters like the sports
news.

Now, however, business is more like show business. It's all people want to know. Am I going to have a job? Will I be able to pay my mortgage? And will Greece still be there for my summer holiday? It follows, therefore, that reporting on the business world has become a lot more ... let's say, colourful.

Robert Peston is one of the BBC's most ubiquitous figures, and when he takes to the airwaves, the halting rhythm of his speech sounding like an old car struggling to get into second gear, he is instantly recognisable. A cult has grown up around him, partly, it has to be said, fuelled by the man himself.

His popularity has, it seems, become the source of a certain irritation among his BBC colleagues. Clearly jealous of Peston's dark, brooding good looks, and covetous of his well-placed sources, political editor Nick Robinson has told of a "bitter rivalry" between the two men.

And now news reaches us of another on-air spat, between Peston and Eddie Mair, presenter of Radio 4's PM programme. At this point, I have to declare my colours. I think Eddie Mair is the best broadcaster in Britain, with the firmness of Humphrys, the persistence of Paxman, and the good manners of Marr. Plus, he's funny. When introducing government paymaster Geoffrey Robinson, he said: "He was once voted after-dinner speaker of the year, so if you've had your tea, you're in for a treat." With deadly assurance, he cuts the grandiose down to size. Which is why you might think that Peston wouldn't be his cup of tea.

"So lovely to hear your voice again, Robert," he'd say, typically, at the conclusion of the business editor's report, the sarcasm dripping off his mic. And, this week, Peston hit back, asking Mair: "Why did you cast me into the wilderness again? I thought we'd had the rapprochement." "Well, we have to press on," replied Mair. "Thank you." And with that Peston was silenced.

This is not the first time that listeners of PM have been treated to a spot of internecine verbal sparring. "Oh Robert, I've let you down and I'd like to apologise," Mair said when upbraided for taking more notice of newspaper reports than Peston's dispatches. Naturally, the Beeb are playing down reports of a rift, saying it's just "friendly banter". But aren't they missing a trick here? Surely, they should be milking it for all it's worth. Apart from anything else, it's one way of making post-neo-classical endogenous growth theory come alive.

i@independent.co.uk

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