James Naughtie to quit Today programme after 21 years

Naughtie was described as the 'emotional heart' of the show by BBC director general Tony Hall and will work as special correspondent for Radio 4

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The long-standing presenter of the Today programme James Naughtie has announced he is leaving the show in January after 21 years on the show.

The former newspaper journalist, who joined the programme in 1994, will work as a special correspondent for Radio 4 and as BBC News books editor when he leaves the show. He said he was moving "from a dream job to a dream job".

Mr Naughtie was described as insatiably curious” and “always charming” by the current editor of the Today programme James Angus, who said it would be "strange to contemplate" the programme without him, while BBC director-general Tony Hall said he had been "the emotional heart" of the show.

He said: "Above all he's a writer and reporter at heart - he can bring to life a vivid scene on the radio better than anyone - and I'm delighted that on many of the biggest news stories of 2016 and beyond Jim will continue to be at the heart of our coverage."

Mr Naughtie, who has interviewed US presidents and every British Prime Minister since he started his role on the programme, will cover next year's Scottish parliamentary elections and the US presidential race.

Among the most memorable of his moments presenting the Today programme was when he made an embarrassing clip of the tongue over the name of then Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt, accidentally replacing the first letter of his surname with the letter ‘C’.

Today editor Mr Angus said: "Usually arriving at around 4.00am in a burst of newspapers, weapons-grade gossip - possibly involving the previous evening spent at the theatre or the opera - and always a slew of ideas of how to take that morning's programme forward, Jim was always a Today night-editor's dream.

"Out of the office and on the road, Jim was in his element. Insatiably curious and always charming, Jim has a knack of grabbing interviews in a corridor or lift you never thought you'd ever get.

"And all of it anchored by his ability as a writer for radio, second to none, always able to conjure up for the audience a sense of place - a US convention, a party conference, moving into Kosovo in a Land Rover, all of it rendered vividly for a generation of Today listeners."

News of Mr Naughtie's departure has fuelled speculation over who will replace him on the flagship Radio 4 programme, with Nick Robinson, the BBC's political editor, among the favourites for the role.