Dear Alan Yentob: Sue Lawley could save Question Time, says our media editor

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Indy Lifestyle Online
I have been wondering what you intend to do about Question Time. Or rather, who will be picked to chair it now that Peter Sissons is going back to prime-time newsreading.

It is pretty obvious the show needs a lot of tender loving care. I know the mission-to-explain bunch at the Beeb see it as 'the debating chamber for the nation', dealing with the 'agenda of the week'. But the rest of us still watching like interesting and amusing discussions, and a decent range of subjects, not just minor politicians blahing away about the economy and education.

It is common knowledge that four people are on the shortlist - Jeremy Paxman, the Dimblebys (Jonathan and David) and Sue Lawley. Here's my suggestion: give it to Sue. Let her escape her desert island.

With a mature Lawley in the chair you would neatly solve two problems. First, the BBC would finally face down the critics who quite rightly wonder why the plum jobs go to the boys. And it would also signal the programme's new direction.

Sue Lawley is able to deal with the light and shade of life. As for handling cabinet ministers, don't forget she was one of the interviewers who really pinned Mrs Thatcher down over the Belgrano.

But, of course, there is the Paxo problem. He is meant to be the frontrunner, and you can't afford to upset a rising star. He certainly has the charisma so lacking in Sissons. I, for one, am a great admirer of his aggressive form of interviewing, though I prefer to watch him savaging his prey rather than performing the relatively benign function of moderator.

Anyway, as part of the Question Time overhaul, the chairperson may have to roam around the audience. Is it fair to unleash Paxo on amateurs? If a man is not clubbable enough for the Garrick, is he cosy enough for slippers and cocoa audience on BBC1? I know Newsnight is on late, but only the committed watch it.

As for the Dimblebys, Jonathan should stay on Radio 4's Any Questions? and David should save himself for interviews and sorting out his personal life.

Which brings me back to Sue. You and I were both on Biteback recently, which she chairs. What struck me was how professional and well prepared she was. She handled the audience with care and consideration, turning elegantly from subject to subject. She made it seem easy.

She is a real, seasoned professional, relaxed enough to relate to ordinary people, smart enough to crack the odd joke, sharp enough to turn questions back on the politicians.

It is time to forgive her for straying into light entertainment, for omitting to ask Fergie if she was having any more children.

Sue Lawley has brains, charisma and charm. Rehabilitate her. Let's have her on Question Time.

(Photograph omitted)

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