Andrew Neil and Piers Morgan should be back on the BBC and ITV – Aidan Smith
Back when there was a music press in this country, four weekly titles were run like newspapers with the big stories splashed on the front page in ‘war-declared’ font size and I’ve never forgotten – or indeed got over – the one which went: “ENO QUITS ROXY.”
For the uninitiated, this was: “Brian Peter George St John le Baptiste de la Salle Eno is no longer a member of Roxy Music.” His departure left me bereft. My favourite band had lost its most interesting musician, who wasn’t actually a musician at all. Flamboyant in his feathered tunic, vivid mascara and shoulder-length tresses worn in defiance of a bald patch, you couldn’t take your eyes off him. A bit like Piers Morgan.
I’m sorry, I’ll read that again: after Morgan stormed out of Good Morning Britain, the show stopped being a must-see. It got safe and bland, just like Roxy.
Yes, Morgan was a bumptious bruiser. He loved the sound of his own voice. But he asked the right questions and, if he didn’t get satisfactory answers back, turned on the flame-thrower. This made breakfasts gruesomely entertaining and got everyone out of the house on time. I don’t buy GMB’s albums anymore, though, and have felt the same about the BBC since Andrew Neil left.
But now it seems essential that some serious questions come the way of these grand inquisitors: “Guys, what the hell are you doing, flouncing off to new start-ups? As in music, as in football when the top player doesn’t feel loved enough or rich enough, departing the scene of your biggest success rarely works out well. You were doing fine on the mainstream channels. Correction: you were doing brilliantly. So this must be about ego, yes? You want to try and re-invent, if not the wheel, then the box in the corner of the living-room? Well, look what happened to Michael Parkinson, Anna Ford and the rest of the so-called ‘Famous Five’ on TV-am: they had to be saved by Roland Rat… ”
Morgan has just been unveiled as the star striker/lead singer of talkTV, a station for right-wingers in the political sense which is being launched by Rupert Murdoch early next year. It will hope to be the channel GB News fancied becoming, and now has no chance of ever being, following the exit of main man Neil.
The writing was on the wall for GB News from day one back in June. And what strange walls they were: Habitat’s “Noir” range, circa 1986. Neil, who doesn’t suffer fools and is the least frivolous man who’s ever had a mic clipped to his suit and doesn’t see why he should laugh off cock-ups behind the scenes, didn’t.
I wrote about the station’s difficult first day for these pages and didn’t tune in again until yesterday. Some who stuck with it a bit longer reckon that Neil – the journalist of his generation, don’t forget – presented just eight shows and that when he appeared in front of a black curtain he was grumpily working from home at his villa in the south of France.
And yesterday? The morning headlines were in letters big enough for the visually impaired to read easily. Unfortunately one of them was “Amaxon tax row”. I turned over to Good Morning Britain where Richard Madeley was, as usual, delivering his flawless impersonation of Alan Partridge so I put on the radio instead.
But the issue here isn’t really about nuts and bolts and wobbly walls; it concerns content. Morgan’s talkTV will have Murdoch’s millions behind it and should be a slicker operation but what’s to prevent it becoming simply an echo-chamber for one side of the argument?
This is the ever-shoutier GB News now: a right-wing presenter interviewing a right-wing guest about what they regard as self-evident right-wing truths for a right-wing viewership of rock-bottom numbers. It’s niche in the way that an album Brian Eno made post-Roxy was niche – Music for Airports.
No wonder Neil got out and left the channel to Nigel Farage and his show Talking Pints where the host and a Brexity chum try to forget about the black walls and GB News’ darkening prospects and pretend they’re in a pub laughing about the latest woke outrage. Neil deserves better than this.
The Corporation has its faults but is still our most trusted news provider. You think it’s too left? Well, funnily enough, there are times listening to Laura Kuenssberg and some of Morgan’s old breakfast rivals on the Beeb giving the government an easy ride that I think the polar opposite.
Neil, on the BBC, didn’t give Johnson an easy ride in the 2019 Tory leadership contest when the latter, a notoriously light reader of important documents, asserted that in the event of a no-deal Brexit, trade with the EU could continue under “GATT 24, paragraph 5(b)”. Neil asked him: “But how would you get round 5(c)?” Johnson, repeatedly: “I would confide entirely in 5(b).” Neil: “Do you actually know what’s in 5(c)?” The PM-in-waiting: “Er, no.”
I loved this at the time, as much for Johnson’s smirk acknowledging defeat, and still love it now when I can replay it on YouTube like a favourite guitar riff – but I’d rather see Neil back on the BBC being the top rottweiler.
And I’d also rather see Morgan returned to Good Morning Britainbecause I don’t think a right-wing channel would have allowed him to chase Johnson into a fridge in pursuit of an interview – and then, after admitting to voting Tory in the election, have had Matt Hancock, Helen Whateley et al pleading with the PM to make room for them in the frozen veg compartment as the presenter went guns blazing over Covid.
A message from the Editor:
Get a year of unlimited access to all of The Scotsman's sport coverage without the need for a full subscription. Expert analysis of the biggest games, exclusive interviews, live blogs, transfer news and 70 per cent fewer ads on Scotsman.com - all for less than £1 a week. Subscribe to us today
Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.