Sir Trevor McDonald is very disappointed and very sad; Andrew Marr is sad; so too is Jennie Bond; Anna Ford is horrified; James Naughtie is sad and, as befits one for whom a single word will not do when ten are available, is overwhelmed by a sense of weirdness; Jeremy Paxman is puzzled; Sue MacGregor is baffled; and Joanna Trollope says the whole thing is crackers.
What on earth can have caused this finer feeling to burst through the thick blanket of ego beneath which this collection of luvvies luxuriate? It must be something pretty serious. Can homosexual civil partnerships have been made illegal? Are women being forced to stay at home and look after their children? Has Britain become a slave trading nation again? No, it’s worse than any of those catastrophes. Moira Stuart, 55, veteran BBC news reader, is to be removed from her regular slot on Andrew Marr’s Sunday AM programme. Yes, folks, it’s come to that. Our national pride has taken some severe knocks in recent times, but nothing quite prepared us for this. Esther Rantzen, a broadcasting colossus whose mark in the memory of the nation is as indelible as a soup stain on a silk tie, speaks for us all when she says, “The BBC has swung a demolition ball through a much-loved British institution”.
Of course, it took someone of Esther’s gifts and eloquence to make us see it like that. Asked to name a much-loved institution, the man on the Clapham omnibus might, having scratched his head a few times and sucked his teeth a while, suggested the Grand National, or the Tower of London, or the Friday Night Vomit. It would take some prompting to elicit the name Moira Stuart. But, should that worthy gallant be told that the BBC had swung a demolition ball through the slight and fragile frame of a person of the opposite sex, no doubt causing a sharp intake of breath, his hackles would rise in manly outrage. And quite right, too.
We owe it to the Daily Mail, a newspaper that long ago cast aside the distinction between news and comment in favour of a return to 18th century pamphleteering, that the threat to Moira has become a cause celebre. It is the Mail that has raised the banner beneath which we can all march, linking arms metaphorically, though sadly not literally, with such folk heroes as David Frost, Jeremy Paxman, Jon Snow, Rory Bremner, Terry Wogan, Dimbleby Minor, and Lembit Opik who, if I am not mistaken, is a character in Star Wars. All these have so far added their voices to the chorus of outrage at the martyrdom of Moira. At the time of going to press more names are sure to join the list. Even now, the Mail will, I feel sure, be securing the support of Salman Rushdie, Sir Roy Strong and Antonia Fraser. How long can it be before our Prime Minister steps to the waiting microphone and announces, with a catch in his voice, that hey, Moira Stuart is the people’s autocue reader?
But where, I hear you cry, does Last Word stand on this issue? When the fate of the nation hangs in the balance it is not enough merely to observe, one must nail one’s colours to the mast. And so I do. Let me say that I, too, am saddened, bewildered, dismayed, baffled and generally out of sorts at the BBC’s wantonness.
Moira has a fine deep voice and a nice line in wigs. She speaks English clearly and with a sense of the meaning of words. In those respects she is worth ten of the shrill Essex harpies whom the BBC prefers to put on our screens, particularly in the field of sports reporting, or rather recitation. That said, the furore whipped up by the Mail is disproportionate. After all, Moira has already been sidelined. To read news items on a programme broadcast at a time when no civilised person should be watching television, let alone viewing Andrew Marr, is the journalistic equivalent of reporting the fat cattle prices for the Farmers Gazette.
BBC news has long been a form of self-indulgent and infantile entertainment. One man, one girl, standing up, sitting down, reading alternate lines from the script, essaying jokey asides, interviewing colleagues on a big screen, disguising plugs for BBC programmes as news items. I could go on.
Still, when there are no statesmen, archbishops, distinguished military leaders or the like to command our respect or to warrant our mourning at their passing, telly personalities are the next best thing. The BBC should do the job properly and have the news presented by Muffin the Mule and the Flowerpot Men.