Feisty by name, feisty by nature

IT is the end of a highly audible era. Lesley Riddoch, Radio Scotland’s most pugnacious presenter, will hang up her headphones today for a new career as an independent producer.

She has set herself the task of discovering the next generation of broadcasters for Scotland. Or, as she explained in her inimitable manner: "I’ll eat my hat."

After five years of bruising encounters with politicians and Joe Public, the two-hour Lesley Riddoch Show, which ran each week day on BBC Radio Scotland, will fade out this afternoon - after an acrimonious few months following her decision to leave the BBC.

When it returns in April, the show will be slimmed to one hour and will be populated by what Ms Riddoch describes as "a Village People" of new talent.

The new show - produced by her own production company, appropriately named Feisty - will experiment with a novel style of presentation in which all the staff, producers and researchers will be on air.

Ms Riddoch explained: "We will be recruiting people that want to broadcast. I will not be the only person who will be on air. This company will find the next generation of broadcasters for Scotland or I will eat my hat. The people we will hire will be a type of ‘Village People’. We are not looking for a whole bunch of Glasgow University graduates ... we are looking for a bunch of people that will keep us on our toes."

In the run-up to the G8 summit - which takes place in June at the Gleneagles Hotel in Perthshire, and at which the plight of Africa will be at the very heart of the agenda - Ms Riddoch plans to show Scotland a new side of the continent by, among other tactics, employing an African journalist.

For the past five years, Ms Riddoch has worked with African Women, a body that supports and trains female journalists from Uganda, Zambia, Kenya and Zimbabwe.

She explained: "Scotland shouldn’t just be a backdrop to this event [the G8]. We should engage with it. The one thing I would love to see is an end to the public perception of Africa as starving people with a cup in their hand.

"On my visits to the continent, I have never met people who are so energised and funny. The fact that we never see this side drives me bananas."

The news of these ambitious plans may trigger a cynical response among Riddoch’s many critics who have bombarded her with vitriol since the announcement to launch her own independent production company which would produce the show and then sell it back to the BBC.

Staff at BBC Scotland were said to be furious at the time and she has been subjected to sustained criticism from the National Union of Journalists, who accused her of not informing them of her plans and threatening the jobs of 15 production staff.

Today, Ms Riddoch believes the antagonism and hostility might have been avoided if she had simply resigned in June, when she first handed in her notice. While admitting that the last few months have been hurtful, she acknowledges that her reputation as an "on-air bruiser" may have led individuals to throw a few heavy punches her way.

"I can quite see how people think I’m a bruiser," she said, "but I don’t think any of the people that got particularly upset were the subjects of my public bruising."

She believes that the uncertainty surrounding the current BBC review which will see BBC Scotland’s budget cut by 15 per cent, with job losses expected, has increased staff concerns about the future.

"When people are unsure about what is happening, when there is change and when they have lost control they do get pretty upset," she said.

She insisted, however, that she bears no resentment. "You would need your head examined to go back into journalism after some of the doings I have been involved in, but you go on."

However, Ms Riddoch is careful on the subject of whether any jobs will be lost as a result of her move: "Not that I know of, but I would seriously have to caveat that - I don’t know that I would know."

She insists that she will not miss the long hours of commuting. For three years, she spent three hours a day on the road to and from Glasgow to broadcast her show. The decision to broadcast it from Edinburgh instead cut the commuting to two hours. In April, it will drop to a 20-minute drive from her rural farmhouse in Fife to Feisty’s custom-built studio in Dundee.

For the next three months, Ms Riddoch said she will be dedicating herself to hiring staff and setting up Feisty, which will be a joint venture with Turan Ali, who runs Bona Broadcasting.

The company will be paid an hourly fee, which she hasn’t disclosed, for producing what may still be called The Lesley Riddoch Show.

She is also in discussions with publishers about writing a book on the Highland Clearances.

"I want to write about how the Clearances continues to shape Scottish society today," she said.

Yet the principal draw on her time will be re-imaging the show to fit the new shorter format. "It’s about changing the environment," she says. "There are all sorts of things we can do - and we will do them."