The news is, the BBC's new look is exactly like the old one

"Jim? Is there nowt on?" asked Barbara Royle a little after half past nine. "Usual shite," grumbled Jim with characteristic economy. "We're going to have to get Sky, you know Barb." They certainly will if they want a nine o'clock bulletin from now on because, from last night the
BBC News at 9pm is nothing but a rapidly fading twinkle in Michael Buerk's eye.

"Jim? Is there nowt on?" asked Barbara Royle a little after half past nine. "Usual shite," grumbled Jim with characteristic economy. "We're going to have to get Sky, you know Barb." They certainly will if they want a nine o'clock bulletin from now on because, from last night the BBC News at 9pm is nothing but a rapidly fading twinkle in Michael Buerk's eye.

He had been reported earlier as having "mixed feelings" about the move, but he was on his best behaviour when the signature tune finally faded, only a trace of sheepish grin and the faintest nudge of intonation on the words "10 o'clock" acknowledging that the broadcasting universe had shifted a little on its axis.

Two and a quarter hours of unbroken current affairs on the BBC began at 9pm on News 24 with Gavin Esler, handing over the baton to Buerk an hour later, and leaving Jeremy Vine to breast the tape exhausted with Newsnight on BBC2. Those who wished could now watch an Israeli soldier running for cover or a Swiss mudslide devouring a vineyard three, four or even five times before retiring to bed.

What BBC continuity described as "the new-look BBC1" was looking strikingly like the old one, with no evidence of large-scale makeover and many reports repeated from the early-evening bulletin.

Executives may have talked up the extra hour of news-gathering as a serious motive for the shift in time, but for most stories it simply means that the cassette sits on the shelf a little longer. And with the main breaking story located in Egypt and Jerusalem there was only a faint hope for the kind of last-minute revelation that might inaugurate the new time-slot with a genuine scoop - in the event, the faint wisps of hope Sky News had detected emerging from the summit hotel at 9pm had not thickened in the slightest an hour later.

There are always innocent victims when great powers clash. In this case it was the BBC's Stakhanovite political editor, Andy Marr, forced to drum his fingers another hour longer on St Stephen's Green, so that his summary of Peter Mandelson's bad news day could have the spurious visual backing of the Houses of Parliament. And the Queen, too, found her Rome visit relegated to the closing minutes - pushed down the running order by an editor anxious to show off his ornaments (Fergal Keane beginning a three-part series on Aids) and his high-mindedness. Forty years ago she would have been the headline item - now it is another Royle family that takes precedence.

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