BBC Today programme is a ‘fight club’, says Linehan
Critics support writer Graham Linehan’s attack on Radio 4 show for ‘poisoning’ national discourse
Comedy writer Graham Linehan has accused the BBC's Today programme of poisoning discourse in Britain after being invited on to the Radio 4 show to discuss his stage adaptation of the classic 1950s film The Ladykillers. Linehan's accusation that the morning news programme is little more than a "fight club" has now been backed up by BBC radio host, Gideon Coe.
According to a blog post written after his appearance on Monday, Linehan, best known for co-creating Father Ted, says he was expecting to discuss the "problems in adapting a classic film for the stage". Guardian theatre critic Michael Billington, he was told, would provide "a wider context".
Linehan says that when he met Billington prior to going on air, it became clear the producers had actually invited the critic to provide the opposing side in an argument over whether films should ever be adapted for the stage.
During the interview, available here, Billington appears to stick to the script, asking, "Why turn a perfect film into a play?" Billington says The Ladykillers is very much of its time and "if you tamper with it you're destroying its very gentle whimsical fabric."
Having set up the argument, BBC host Justin Webb asks Linehan to respond. Refusing to be drawn into the debate, the writer says simply, "Well, I disagree."
After Webb presses him, at one point accusing him of being as uncooperative as a Cabinet minister, Linehan lets rip, saying: "I just find the whole thing of setting up an adversarial fight between me and Michael... artificial."
In his blog post, written yesterday, Linehan tells of his delight at being able to "complain directly to Today's pompous John Humphrys stand-in...
"The style of debate practised by the Today programme poisons discourse in this country. An arena where there are no positions possible except diametrically opposed ones, where nuance is not permitted, where politicians are forced into defensive positions of utter banality... none of it is any good for the national conversation."
He calls the show a "little fight club" and asks whether "mis-briefing your guests is ethical journalistic practice".
Linehan's story has encouraged others to come forward and suggest the writer's experience is not unique.
Daily Mirror music critic Gavin Martin claimed on Twitter that the "exact same thing happened" when he was invited on to Today to discuss a Bob Dylan show at the Roundhouse.
Martin had been told he would be the only person on the show - but found he was actually expected to argue with another guest, BBC 6Music host Gideon Coe. Coe himself complained about his BBC colleagues, saying: "The first question to me set me up as the anti-Dylan camp. News to me."
Meanwhile, rather than respond directly to Linehan's accusations, Webb has chosen to make light of the situation, tweeting: "Watching for Father Ted with baseball bat hiding behind studio door. Hoping the weather forecasters don't argue back."
The BBC has since responded, telling the Daily Telegraph: "There was certainly no intention to 'ambush' Mr Linehan and we are sorry if he took it that way, but our producers felt they had clearly explained in advance how the discussion would play out." ·
Comments are now closed on this article