Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Pesto di notte

BBC Economics Editor Robert Peston is getting increasingly twitchy ahead of his Newsnight presenting debut tonight.

My brief advice: avoid the current Premier Inn blow-dry look, and keep your hands out of your pockets. It doesn't make you look relaxed. Horse pills may help. And you've got two more editions this week to make improvements...


Zoe Paterson, once an interactive content producer for BBC Radio, now makes cakes with faces on them. She's recently been sharing her skills in workshops at the London Welsh Centre ("very reasonable rates if you need a space near Kings Cross!") and, naturally enough, asked participants to pick Welsh celebrities for their first efforts.

As a demo, she made this cake with Huw Edwards' physog on top - the base cake is Mary Berry’s all-in-one Victoria sponge recipe, filled with raspberry jam and caramel buttercream. The decoration took an hour - and the uncanny result is as if he'd just come out of make-up for the Ten O'Clock bulletin.

The cake was left behind as a gift - Huw is President of the London Welsh Centre - but there's no word on who actually consumed it.

Coe opts out

The "shoo-in" has dropped out. Lord Coe broke his decision not to proceed to interview for the job of BBC Trust Chairman to the Mail's sports diarist Charlie Sale, saying ‘I did allow my name to go forward to give myself time to properly analyse whether I had enough time to do the job to the best of my abilities.

‘On reflection, I haven’t the capacity and I now want to concentrate on my current commitments and the IAAF election. As everyone knows, athletics is in my DNA.’

The news comes a day after The Times (paywall) suggested that, if appointed, Coe's commitments would be questioned pretty firmly by the usually-angry-about-something MPs of the Culture and Media Select Committee.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Jazz hands

Lord Coe took time out in yesterday's Sunday Telegraph to remind us of his cultural credentials. (Why, it's almost as if he was looking for a top job at one of the country's major cultural institations....)

He vouchsafes a lifelong passion for jazz.  He says a track by Roy Eldridge and Dizzy Gillespie started it.

He claims pressure from the Parliamentary All-Party Jazz Appreciation Group - of which he was then a member, with Ken Clarke - saved the BBC Big Band in 1994, when Auntie sought to close it down. It survives now as a freelance group "under the auspices" of the BBC. Lord Coe may have noticed that their regular Radio 2 show was axed this year, and perhaps if he gets into 180 Great Portland Street, he can sort that too, with another man at the sport/music cusp, BBC Director of Music, Bob Shennan.


I know broadcasters are as young as they feel, but it's mildly interesting to note that the departure of Evan Davis to Newsnight will reduce the average age of Today presenters from 63 to 54. And if, say, and only say, John Humphrys was to pack it in after the next General Election, and be replaced by some whipper snapper like Nick Robinson, it would reduce to 52 (allowing for additional birthdays passed..)

Can they get through the summer holidays without some stand-ins ?

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Sir Richard MacCormac

I'm very sad to learn that one of Britain's most learned, civilised and civilising architects, Sir Richard MacCormac, has died, at the age of 75.

He and his MJP team won the competition to redevelop the Broadcasting House site in 2000 - by a mile, I'm told. He sold his ideas with a combination of wisdom and charm that enabled the BBC to get a really substantial building on the site, through a planning process of intense scrutiny. You never really knew if all the ideas were his - he assembled a team of quality and ambition - but wherever they started, they turned into something special as he explained them, and connected them, back to themes from the past, and forward, to spaces that would inspire.

I joined the project when Phase 1, the rebuilding of old Broadcasting House as a place to make radio programmes again, and the creation of its new sister wing, nee Egton, was about to start. We had great fun as MJP developed designs for Phase 2, watched like hawks by serried ranks of Dickensian cost consultants, quantity surveyors and builders-who-knew-best. He was erudite, but never earnest, fastidious but not fussy; we'd barter items, distract them from stopping good ideas by letting them worry about light fittings in escape stairs - and celebrate small victories over a bottle of crisp dry white.

BBC bosses with shorter-term ambitions steered clear - buildings are tricky things, and the best come from strong organisations.  Delays to Phase 1 scared them badly. The contract for Phase 2 eventually made Sir Richard the servant of builders - and they were looking to their margins, as, I'm afraid, was the BBC. A sad, sorry process of "simplification" was put in place; he fought a losing battle, and the wider "client" selected different architects to complete the detailed design.

There was some painful use of the word "iconic" in executive meetings of the BBC as they tracked the design work; I think they really meant memorable. Sir Richard's broad shape for the site, his stone and glass cladding, his gull-wing roof, his piazza and bridges, the twin atria and central circulation, the bold modern frontage along Portland Place, all survived simplification. Succeeding architects did good work inside, but with a much reduced budget - and I worry that the BBC doesn't have the discipline to keep the to-a-price interior in good nick.  But it's the framework that's memorable, and for that, we should remember and thank Sir Richard MacCormac.


Dame Jenny Abramsky, former Director of Audio and Music at the BBC, has given an interview to The Telegraph as she prepares to step down from leadership of the Heritage Lottery Fund.

She's not packing in, though. In September, she steps up to chair the Royal Academy of Music, following Lord Burns. She's been getting used to their style, joining the governing body a year ago, alongside Lady Suzanne Heywood (of McKinsey fame), which may have produced entertaining chats about how the BBC is or should be organised.

The Telegraph tries to draw Jenny out on the current BBC. The only thing she volunteers is a suggestion that Auntie should up its science programming. "This country doesn’t do enough science and the BBC has a responsibility there.” Jenny's son, Rob, is a BBC science producer.

Saturday, July 26, 2014


  • The new series of Great British Bake-Off, which moves to BBC1, will be accompanied by a follow-up programme on BBC2 called An Extra Slice, fronted by Jo Brand. What will the genre police make of this ? Will it, like its parent show, be considered a "constructed documentary", or just "entertainment" ? (James Heath, Director of Policy, blogged this week thus "BBC One is a hugely distinctive service – more distinctive than 30 years ago with, for example, zero US imports and more drama, documentaries and news". Presumably if you count baking competitions.)
  • The Mandrake column at the Telegraph has been taking the mick out of James Naughtie's essays for some time. A BBC spokesman has proffered a list of all other activities current undertaken by the peripatetic novelist, raconteur and broadcaster, ending "And, of course, he’s presenting Good Morning Scotland twice a week.”  Not since March he hasn't. Just Fridays. And a break during the Commonwealth Games.

Call for papers 2

The blog that tries to help...

A plaintive email to BBC news staff at MediaCityUK reaches me...


Did anyone pick up Steve Mawhinney’s papers by any chance? 


Can't be expected to shape the news without Fleet Street - or even, maybe, perhaps, with the help of one of these new computer things...

Food and Drink

Dogged FoI inquirers are always trying to find new ways to pry nuggets out of the BBC. Here's the result of one asking for the ten most expensive bottles of wine purchased by Auntie in December, and the ten most expensive meal claims in the same month. I suspect they were trying to find pre-Christmas excess - and haven't hit paydirt this time; maybe if it had been framed differently...there's many ways to fund a seasonal jolly..

Other people who read this.......