Sir Jimmy Young agrees to quit lunchtime show

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The Independent Online

Sir Jimmy Young is to step down from his BBC Radio 2 lunchtime show at the end of December after 28 years. The announcement ends an awkward period of negotiations between the presenter and the corporation, which at times became embarrassingly public.

Sir Jimmy will move from a daily slot to a weekend show, allowing the 80-year-old broadcaster to keep his large audience and his dignity, while giving Jim Moir, the Radio 2 controller, the chance to shuffle his pack of presenters.

Radio 2 bosses have wanted a younger presenter in the lunchtime slot for some time, but when their wishes were leaked by the Radio 5 Live presenter Nicky Campbell (who disclosed he had been approached for Sir Jimmy's job), questions were asked in the House of Commons and one newspaper ran a campaign to "Save Jimmy Young".

Sir Jimmy has 5.3 million listeners and his broadcasting style is lively and informative, so it appeared that Radio 2 wanted change for change's sake.

Sir Jimmy, who has been a BBC broadcaster for 50 years and was one of the original Radio 1 presenters, has said he wants to die with his microphone on. He was knighted in the New Year's Honours list, and extended his contract for a further year yesterday. The "JY Prog" will move to the weekend in 2003.

Nicky Campbell has said he wants to remain in his more hard-edged Radio 5 Live morning slot, but there could be attempts to change his mind. He has been forgiven for going public on private conversations with BBC bosses, and is still highly regarded within the BBC for his easy but authoritative broadcasting manner.

The Newsnight presenter Jeremy Vine has stood in for Sir Jimmy, as has The Independent columnist David Aaronovitch. The GMTV presenter Eamonn Holmes, who also hosts BBC's National Lottery show, virtually put in a job application for the Young show in a recent interview, but is thought that he is unlikely to be in the running.

Sir Jimmy, known as the "housewives' choice", interviewed Margaret Thatcher 14 times on the show during her time as Prime Minister, starting the trend for prime ministers to choose his show and other non-political programmes with a large audience and friendly presenters, rather than the traditional options of Newsnight, Panorama and the Today programme.

Sir Jimmy's catchphrases, such as "What's the recipe today, Jim?" and "Orft we jolly well go", became common parlance, and four years ago he was honoured with a Gold Sony Radio Award.

Mr Moir said yesterday: "Jimmy is one of Britain's most popular and respected broadcasters and I am pleased that his expert contribution to the debate on the issues of the day has been secured for the future.

"A weekend news and current affairs programme hosted by Jimmy will be an appointment to listen and a landmark series for the network. I'm glad that Jimmy will continue to play an important role as Radio 2 evolves."

Sir Jimmy said: "I've thoroughly enjoyed 28 years of presenting the 'Prog' and I'm looking forward to one more year. A high-profile news and current affairs programme at the weekend will be a new challenge for me and I'm confident it will play a key role in helping set the news agenda."