Matthew Norman's Media Diary

BBC show pony stumbles at the first
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The Independent Online

JUST A few months after he took over the post, I am disappointed by the lack of appreciation for BBC political editor Nick Robinson, who is widely dismissed as what's known in football as a show pony. Perhaps there is something in this. Nick, who marries the understated good looks of Ernest G Bilko with the gentle good humour of Queen Victoria suffering eruptive piles on the anniversary of Albert's death, does seem very eager to make his mark.

Even so, I refuse to join the chorus of carping. I will not do it. Instead, I ask you to remember that despite his appearance Nick is still relatively young (42), and his willingness to do his job without any attempt at wit, insight, originality or gravitas suggests an independence of spirit that will sustain him in these tricky early days.

Having said that, he is susceptible to pressure. His question to David Cameron at the victory press conference (some over-rehearsed idiocy about the form guide offered by previous Tory leaders) was babyish in both content and tone. Still, having been a leading Young Conservative as a student, no doubt he feels the need to establish his neutrality by being especially rude to current Tories, and in time he'll learn some finesse.

Incidentally, Robinson's appointment as the state broadcaster's political editor may offer a clue as to the BBC's expectations. Almost invariably, the post is held by an instinctive supporter of the government (the erstwhile Thatcherite Robin Oakley during the Major years, then New Labour's Andrew Marr). If Robinson can tone down the hardman act and hold on until the next election - and show ponies, as Cristiano Ronaldo confirms, can develop into classic contenders - it could be a useful omen for David Cameron.

PERHAPS NICK will reflect on whether the relentlessly macho tone is a little passé in the light of our most beloved Jeremy Paxman's self-rebranding as a great big soppy fluffball. Paxo's weep on a forthcoming BBC2 genealogy show is less startling than it may appear. To a degree that does him huge credit, he is painfully aware of the almost nihilistic pointlessness of any desk-bound media job, however lustrous. So perhaps it was the guilt-laden contrast between his work and that of the charwoman ancestress who died young in Glasgow of TB "and exhaustion" that helped nudge the Paxo lachrymals into action.

ANOTHER ENCOURAGING week for Peter Riddell, the callow political pundit on The Times. Peter suffered a recent calamity, you will recall, with a front-page report claiming that David Davis was cruising to the Tory leadership. He hasn't yet quite managed the public apology for this misleading drivel, but as long as he's keeping himself out of serious trouble, that'll do. Nothing worse than seeing a promising career wrecked by youthful high spirits.

DEEPLY DISTRESSING news that a certain Roger De Haan is pulling the plug on his Sony award-winning digital radio station Prime Time, which will vanish next spring. This is a personal disaster for my brother-in-law Noel. By several decades the station's youngest listener at 46, Noel is a particular fan of Prime Time's star broadcaster "Diddy" David Hamilton, a great radio name who will doubtless be snapped up soon by someone with the patience to hold on until digital radio becomes profitable. Roger De Haan, who is thought to be a first cousin once removed of Springtime for Hitler director Roger De Bris, insists he feels "considerable regret" at the decision, which he ascribes to contractual difficulties with the multiplex operator. A feeling in my bones says he'll feel a fair bit more before we've done with him.

I WISH formally to distance myself from remarks in this section last week by the comic Iain Lee. Citing BBC1's Watchdog as his Guilty Pleasure, Lee mystifyingly described presenter Nicky Campbell as "the sort of man you want to slap", "a little bit cocky" (??) and, unpardonably, "everyone's favourite midget". One understands Lee's fondness of a show in which the likes of Paul Heiney - still schlepping round doing the same old turn, bless him, all those years after being one of Esther's minions on That's Life! - irritate relatively harmless people engaged in a little light villainy. Last week's fingering of a chap in Wales who sells some newly banned herbal supplement on the internet was right up there with The Sunday Times's exposure of thalidomide.

Even so, we will not brook the taking of so personal a tone with Nicky, a sensitive plant who has made important social strides, and hasn't made a Radio 5 Live colleague cry on air for at least 18 months. Poor show.

IN THE light of Simon Heffer's apparent candidacy for the editorship of The Daily Telegraph, the serialisation of his new memoir Son of PC Gone Mad!, his wistful, Alan Bennett-style reverie about growing up in Southend as the son of a beat bobby, is hereby suspended. Should Simon get the job, several leading publishers have shown an interest in reprinting the work (currently available only from Essex-based vanity firm Repatriation Press) in paperback, and we must hold our horses for a week lest the Telegraph decision is imminent.

When we resume, the next extract will involve Simon's 17th birthday trip to Vivienne Westwood's London shop during his flirtation with punk rock, where he meets Malcolm McLaren and tries to engage Sid Vicious in a debate about the money supply figure M3 and its implications for the future of general monetarist policy.

m.norman@independent.co.uk

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