We won't see his like again - unfortunately

Former BBC business reporter Hywel Jones laments the departure of business editor Jeff Randall and wonders if he truly can be replaced
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Step into the office of the BBC business editor for a second. It's a glass box in Television Centre with a view that not many chief executives could be bothered to fight for. The box looks out on to one scruffy corner of the BBC's vast Economics and Business Centre, aka the Business Unit.

In the glass box, there's barely enough room for a desk, a small bookcase, and the cheapest of BBC-issue sofas. Yet it was home to one of the BBC's biggest talents, Jeff Randall. When Jeff joined the BBC in 2001, commentators acclaimed him as the man who would shake up the corporation's business news coverage: less Bosses vs Workers, more understanding of how business really works.

The BBC's news culture, though, is impervious to most attempts to reshape it. Jeff's big-hitting style seems to have made barely a dent on the attitudes of posh producers who secretly mocked and mimicked his down-to-earth accent. His successor will already be aware of the BBC's newsgathering operation. Its layers of faceless box-ticking managers. Its loss of confidence after the Hutton affair. Its sheer size: a weakness as well as a strength. So where does the BBC's business editor fit into the machine?

On a big news day, Jeff would be live on Radio 4's Today programme at 7am and work through to the Ten O'Clock News on BBC1. Maybe even Newsnight.

On slower days, most of the 100 BBC business journalists enjoy gentler hours, starting with a morning meeting at more or less 10am. The morning meeting has a tendency to meander, so much so that some drift back to their desks by the time it splutters on to the nth observation about a dull story. This was when the Randall radar would light up. He had the editor's knack of cutting through the endless chirruping to pick out the real story.

One recurring theme was the need for the BBC to be fair to companies, to report on them when they'd managed to claw themselves out of a hole, not just when they were in trouble.

This was an alien concept to programme producers whose understanding of business didn't seem to extend beyond Big Company in Trouble, Consumer as Victim and House Price Shock stories. Jeff's appointment promised an exciting shift: highlighting the personalities, the drama, the gut-wrenching effort required to run a business.

Jeff had the gift of translating the language of business into something the viewer would immediately grasp - and might actually be interested in. Jeff was just himself in front of the microphone, and let the story do the talking. It worked.

Let's hope the BBC's new business editor is equally fearless. Trouble is, in the cloisters of Television Centre, the opposition isn't ITV, Five or Sky, but the guy in the next cubicle.

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