Michael Palin, Sir Tim Berners Lee and PJ Harvey will guest edit Radio 4's Today show this Christmas. But do we need to listen?

They’ll just be promoting their pet schemes and ideas - not editing in any real sense

Share
Related Topics

Has the “guest editors” wheeze on Today run its course?

This will be the tenth year that BBC Radio’s premier news programme has “handed over the reins”, as it likes to say, for the week between Christmas and New Year to an eclectic selection of famous individuals.

I have to say they manage to land some great names. This year’s guests include the former director general of MI5, Eliza Manningham Buller, and the inventor of the World Wide Web, Sir Tim Berners Lee.

But they won’t really be editing, will they? They’ll just be promoting their pet schemes and ideas – like all guest editors do.

Manningham Buller will talk about spying pigeons and Sir Tim will ask Today listeners how they’d like to see the Web develop. Elsewhere, Michael Palin will discuss with fellow Python John Cleese the row that originally broke out over The Life of Brian. As a travel writer, Palin will also be talking to other travel writers about where else on the globe remains undiscovered.

And PJ Harvey, the musician, will “showcase some of her many influences, political, poetical and musical”. Well, good for you PJ!

For the final week of the year, Today acts as if the news cycle – this constantly whirring information supply that everyone has access to on their personal mobile devices – has suddenly stopped. At the least, news is downgraded in importance. One radio reviewer in 2009 complained of a “nasty taste in the mouth” as a big unfolding news story in Gaza was given second billing behind a cookery item with Giorgio Locatelli. But then the flagship news programme was being edited that day by Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, the Archbishop of Westminster. So presumably it was his call.

On other guest editing occasions, Today listeners have had to hear Chelsea-supporting Lord Coe appealing to Jose Mourinho to return to Stamford Bridge and the Sudanese telecoms tycoon Mo Ibrahim celebrating the telecoms sector in Africa.

Guest editing is an idea that is most-used in print - where commercial media organisations have used the device to raise their profile. The Independent’s use of Bono to edit a newspaper in 2006, themed to combat the spread of AIDS in Africa, was one of the most distinctive examples of this idea.

Today has managed many similarly eye-catching moments over the past decade. Author and guest editor PD James’s grilling of then director general Mark Thompson in 2009 was compelling radio and stands alongside Today presenter John Humphrys’s more regular working over of DG George Entwistle last year.

But when Today assistant editor Peter Hanington first pitched the guest editing idea to then editor Kevin Marsh it made a lot more sense. Back in 2003, things were different. In the days before social media and a revolution in the public relations industry, the Christmas week could feel very sleepy. Who wouldn’t have rather listened to Jarvis Cocker having a Christmas time dinner with Richard Dawkins? Or Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, one of the early guests in 2003, investigating the beneficial effects of a hangover?

Today was reminded that the news never stops in 2004 when the Tsunami swept away most of the Duchess of York’s guest material. Since then the political spin doctors – and other PRs - have realised the opportunity for releasing stories during a week when there is a little less competition in news.

The use of guest editors allows the Today team to experiment with the format. But there is room for much of this stuff in other areas of the Radio 4 schedule.

This year’s guests are great. I hear Lady Manningham Buller is lining up an interview with Dame Judi Dench to discuss the portrayal of spooks in film. PJ Harvey is taking her editing responsibilities very seriously.

But the format has had its time. The fact that reality star Katie Price was even considered last year told us something. And now the guest editing idea has become so established that showbiz agents are pitching their clients to Today. We listeners appreciate a break from politics – but not if our morning listen is to become part of the celebrity culture.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Service and Installation Engineer

£22000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: SEO / Outreach Executive

£20000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is a global marketin...

Recruitment Genius: Junior Estimator

£17000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Negotiator - OTE £24,000

£22000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An enthusiastic individual is r...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Newspaper stands have been criticised by the Child Eyes campaign  

There were more reader complaints this year – but, then again, there were more readers

Will Gore
 

People drink to shut out pain and stress – arresting them won’t help

Deborah Coughlin
A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?