Managers may replace star names on air when BBC strike starts

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The Independent Online

Some of the BBC's most highly paid stars will tomorrow join thousands of behind-the-scenes colleagues in a strike that will force many of the corporation's flagship live programmes off air.

Some of the BBC's most highly paid stars will tomorrow join thousands of behind-the-scenes colleagues in a strike that will force many of the corporation's flagship live programmes off air.

Radio 2 presenter Jeremy Vine, BBC Breakfast host Natasha Kaplinsky and Ten O'Clock News presenter Fiona Bruce are among those whose absences will leave BBC executives braced for chaos during the 24-hour walkout.

Bosses at the corporation have been working on contingency plans to keep programmes on air. Worst hit will be news shows, as most other TV output is pre-recorded, and Radio 4 and Radio Five Live could be most at risk.

The priority for those holding the fort will be running a skeleton News 24 service which can then be dropped into BBC1's news bulletin slots, although these will be reduced to only 15 minutes. Inexperienced presenters and managers could be forced to go on air.

Other on-screen figures understood to be planning to stay away include Moira Stuart, Dermot Murnaghan and Sian Williams. The Today programme and Newsnight are already known to be among the casualties. Executives took a decision midway through last week to axe the programmes because the difficulties they faced with a lack of technical staff were insurmountable.

Today, whose presenters include James Naughtie and John Humphrys, would have struggled to field a team, according to programme insiders, and Newsnight's Jeremy Paxman would not have worked had the Monday edition gone ahead.

The action is being staged by members of the National Union of Journalists, the broadcasting union Bectu and the technicians' union Amicus in protest at proposed job cuts of up to 4,000 as director-general Mark Thompson tries to make annual savings of £355m over coming years. Unions and staff have been angered by the lack of consultation before cuts were announced.

Of the 40 News 24 journalists scheduled to work during the strike, only three have indicated they would be in the office and most of the technical staff will be away.

John Davidson, chairman of the NUJ's London BBC branch, said: "We think they'll be able to put out some sort of service. There will be some pre-recorded programmes, but they won't be able to respond to any unfolding news in any meaningful way."

Nick Serpell, News 24's senior NUJ official, said staff acknowledged that there would be cuts but there had been no attempt at negotiation. "I've never known people to be so bitter and angry," he said.

Some journalists are unhappy that timeless reports which had been stockpiled for emergencies could be transmitted during the strike. "I will not be happy if I am made to look like a strike-breaker," said one news journalist.

A BBC spokeswoman said: "We have contingency plans in place but we won't know specifically what measures will be taken until Monday."

BBC STRIKE SURVIVAL GUIDE

BBC news programmes may be forced off the air tomorrow when thousands of corporation employees go on strike.

Just imagine - we could be denied the whole of Today, Breakfast News, Start the Week, Woman's Hour, Newsnight, News 24, Radio Five Live. For a whole day. It simply goes against nature. This could affect the entire fabric of British culture. Deprived of Nick Clarke's mahogany-voiced reassurance and Jenni Murray's super-nanny tones, the BBC's core audience will be like hungry sheep, looking up but not being fed. However, The Independent on Sunday's tips for survival are all you will need to replicate Radio 4 conditions.

1 Take a new, but not very enthusiastic, interest in the weather.

2 Grasp Sudoku challenge.

3 Start political argument with partner.

4 Go for run around park. 5 Put on Katie Melua CD, but muffle vocals by clamping pillow over speakers.

John Walsh

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