Did the BBC sack the wrong Today presenter?
Ed Stourton was seen as too posh for Radio 4 and paid the price - but at least he doesn't talk as much tosh as Evan Davis
The nominations for this year's Sony Radio Awards are in, and the smart money is on the boys from the BBC Radio Today programme to carry off a well-deserved gong or two. After all Ross and Brand, last year's big winners, have been, shall we say, overlooked, and the main competition comes from the upstart likes of Electric Radio Brixton (operating from behind the walls of the local slammer), and the Bristol Catholic Diocese.
In particular, the nomination of Evan Davis as Speech Broadcaster of the Year, will be touted as a vindication of Today's cack-handed attempts to refashion itself.
Late last year the show decided to fire its Ampleforth and Cambridge-educated stalwart Ed Stourton, supposedly for being too posh, and replace him at the end of this summer with their north America correspondent, Justin Webb (Sidcott and the LSE). Sniff, sniff.
Ed took the blow with characteristic stoicism, but his upcoming departure has thrown a cruel light on the shortcomings of Davis, whose inability to shine beyond his specialist field of economics has become a deadweight on the whole broadcast. On Monday this week, Evan was happily wading through the expanses of public sector deficits, growth projections and spending limits with shadow chancellor George Osborne, as, from all sides came the sound of foreheads hitting breakfast tables.
At least Stourton avoids the conceit of extravagant displays of knowledge Admittedly, Osborne talks like a constipated call-centre manager, and everything he says about the current financial crisis amounts to a reasonable-enough admission that the Tories don't have a clue what to do about it either. But shouldn't that be a journalist's opportunity? What comes out instead is the BBC man's apparent determination to show that he can spout more jargon, at greater length and to even less effect than whoever he is interviewing.
Ed Stourton's grasp of economics may be that of Harold Macmillan without the matchsticks, but at least he is able to ask straight questions in pursuit of comprehensible answers, and takes care to avoid the conceit of assuming that extravagant displays of knowledge add anything to the art of broadcasting.
From this flows the kind of arrogance that saw Davis controversially leaping to Alistair Darling's defence after the Chancellor claimed the economy was in its worst shape for 30 years.
"If we could make the economy strong by lying about it," huffed Evan on his BBC blog, "I would be out there for lying all the time. But it didn't work in the Soviet Union, and it won't work in a country with a free press either. Better that Mr Darling tells us what he thinks, than that he tells us what we'd like to hear."
Unlike his hero Peter Jay, Davis is prone to interminable riffs of gobbledygookWhat some of us would like to hear is the sound of Davis clearing the vast piles of Treasury statistical manuals off his desk, and acting like the mainstream broadcaster he is now supposed to be. It shouldn't be that difficult, for there's talent as well as cleverness behind that gawky, Andrew Marr-esque exterior. It allowed Davis to become an improbable cult figure on television in his earlier role as the BBC's economics editor, and host of Dragon's Den.
Known within the corporation as 'Tinsel Tits' (on account of his supposed nipple piercings), the pre-Today show Davis was an avowed disciple of Peter Jay, the BBC economics guru famed both for the size of his brain and the infrequency of his appearances on the box. If it was hard to get a word out of Jay, the opposite problem prevails with Davis's interminable riffs of gobbledygook.
Keeping Ed Stourton is the answer. If only because most of us would still rather have posh than tosh. ·
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