Fearless Eddie Mair skewers Boris in display that could make him a star

The Mayor of London usually escapes tough questioning with his buffoonery

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After years of being a familiar voice to Radio 4 listeners but almost unrecognisable to viewers of the small screen, Eddie Mair has lately elbowed his way to the forefront of BBC television journalism.

His shredding of Boris Johnson, a politician and media professional who has learned to deflect any kind of on-camera criticism by use of a shield of eccentricity, must have caught the eye of the corporation’s news executives.

No one usually lands a glove on Boris. Most interviewers are content to allow the Mayor of London entertain their viewers with his distinctive buffoonery. Mair so effectively dragged him out of his comfort zone that it was as if he had seized Boris by his famously ruffled hair and exposed that straw-coloured mop as an elaborate wig.

“Why don’t we talk about something else?” he pleaded as Mair went for him like a dog with a bone and delving into the darker corners of Boris’s rise to become the country’s favourite young fogey. “Aren’t you in fact making up quotes, lying to your party leader, wanting to be part of someone being physically assaulted...you're a nasty piece of work, aren’t you?”

Mair, 47, a multiple Sony award winner during his long radio career, is not afraid of being unpopular. Within BBC News there are those who see him as capable of being a bit nasty himself, and he has a reputation for having a difficult relationship with the BBC Business Editor Robert Peston (although it is never entirely clear whether this is contrived).

Audiences not accustomed to the quirky wit Mair daily brings to Radio 4’s PM were shocked at his brutally frank performance as stand-in host of Newsnight in November as that programme’s reputation reached a nadir over its misreporting of the Jimmy Savile and Lord McAlpine stories.

First Mair screwed up his face as he told viewers that BBC executives would not come onto the show to explain themselves. Then, when Newsnight guest Tory MP Rob Wilson complained about a failing microphone, Mair scowled: “Oh great, now even the sound isn’t working…the journalism isn’t working…”

With the BBC2 flagship show’s future handing by a thread, Mair concluded his guest appearance as presenter with the words: “That’s all we have for tonight, Newsnight will be back on Monday. Probably.”

Viewers – especially those horrified by the errors being made by Newsnight – seemed to find it refreshing.

Now as a stand-in for Andrew Marr on his Sunday show, Mair has again caught the eye. His television profile will surely grow.

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