The news that James Naughtie’s been redeployed by the Today programme, with Mishal Husain being brought into the team, can only be a good thing.
As long as Sarah Montague remained the programme’s only woman presenter, the accusation of tokenism could never be very far away. And there’s scarcely a programme on radio and television that doesn’t need freshening up from time to time (on the radio, I can only think of Desert Island Discs, Just A Minute and I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue that should be inviolable). The last time there was any change in the Today roster was in August 2009, when Justin Webb came on board.
Naughtie, who will still present Today from time to time, is going to front Good Morning Scotland twice a week and generally beef up Scottish coverage - a reasonable allocation of resources, I’d say. As for Husain, other women come to mind - Mariella Frostrup, interviewer par excellence, would have been a fascinating appointment from left-field - but Husain’s solid journalistic background probably won her the job. If the job was in my gift I’d probably go gender-blind and hire Eddie Mair, but then I’d probably hire him for any radio job going - wouldn’t he be great on Desert Island Discs? Another high-profile female candidate would be Disc’s Kirstie Young, or perhaps Stephanie Flanders - although then we’d be denied her superb economic analyses.
But does Today need a more radical overhaul? Fewer PR puffs masquerading as arts stories would be good, and less of the bemusement when handling anything to do with those under the age of 30. It’s still agenda-setting, and John Humphrys is still there to add heft, while Evan Davis has improved immeasurably as an interviewer. But I suspect older listeners still pine for the glory, glory days of Brian Redhead.
I wonder how EJ Thribb might see Naughtie’s semi-departure? I suspect he’d concentrate on one incident in his career – for which, possibly to his chagrin and irritation, he’ll be forever remembered – the occasion he referred to Jeremy Whatsisname, the Hulture Secretary. Mr Hunt for one is probably glad to see Naughtie spending more time north of the border.