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The BBC’s battle to retain top talent

Andrew Marr exits as broadcaster launches ‘major reshuffle’ of remaining senior presenters

Andrew Marr hosted his last Sunday morning politics show for the BBC yesterday following a 21-year career with the national broadcaster. 

The journalist signed off from The Andrew Marr Show with a quote from Ron Burgundy, the fictional news anchor played by Will Ferrell in the 2004 hit comedy Anchorman. 

“I have been wondering how to close this final show,” said Marr, “but I can’t do better than quoting my great mentor: ‘you stay classy, San Diego’.” Sophie Raworth will step in as interim presenter on what will temporarily be renamed Sunday Morning from 9 January.

Marr, who hosted his weekend politics programme for 16 years, is joining LBC radio to front an opinion-led show. Announcing his resignation from the BBC on Twitter in November, the veteran presenter wrote that he was “keen to get my own voice back”. Moving to broadcast giant Global, which operates LBC, would allow him to deliver “fast-paced, very regular political journalism… with no filter”. 

He will be joining fellow BBC departee John Humphrys at Global, where the former Today programme presenter now hosts a show on Classic FM. Following Marr’s resignation, Humphrys agreed that remaining impartial at the BBC was “a constraint”. “When I freed myself after 51 years, the limit on what I could say, which is rightly there, lifted,” said Humphry, who quit Radio 4’s Today in 2019.

Marr will also “find the constricting stays of the impartiality girdle considerably loosened in his new role”, predicted Robin Aitken at The Telegraph. “And he will also be able to write opinionated articles for newspapers and magazines, forbidden territory for BBC journalists.” 

Marr’s departure is one of the latest moves in “a game of musical chairs among leading presenters and journalists at the BBC, with executives trying to find roles for them”, said The Guardian.

Another significant change was confirmed today by Laura Kuenssberg, who will step down as political editor in April next year. In a statement, she said it had been “incredible to occupy the chair during a time of such change” in British politics, one that has seen two general elections, Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic.  Kuenssberg, the first woman to hold the role, said she would “miss the daily drama” but after “what feels like decades’ worth of headlines, it’s time for the next move”. The journalist has reportedly been in talks to move to the Today programme, though this has not been confirmed. Sources had previously said Kuenssberg’s move was “part of a major reshuffle of senior on-air staff”, The Guardian’s media editor Jim Waterson reported in October. Another shake-up has also taken place in the US. The corporation’s former Scotland editor Sarah Smith last month took over as North American editor from Jon Sopel, who left the post after seven years.

The previous month, BBC director-general Tim Davie admitted to MPs on the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee that the broadcaster was “losing talent”, with big names “being poached” by other platforms including LBC and GB News. 

Along with departing senior journalists, Davie also pointed to screenwriter and Fleabag creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge as another example of the BBC’s major recent losses.  

“We are in a global game now,” he said, adding that the talent battle between media companies was “red hot” as rival stations present creatives with “possibilities for transformational wealth”. In order to prosper in the changing media landscape, “the BBC needs to do things differently to other players”, with “new talent and new writing”, said Davie.

Davie’s proposed strategy to bolster the BBC’s talent pool may also include enticing back former big-name staff. Andrew Neil reportedly had talks with Davie weeks after resigning from the ailing GB News channel in September. According to The Times’ media correspondent Jake Kanter, the meeting “served to build bridges” after the corporation axed The Andrew Neil Show in July last year. 

Sources “said a return to the BBC could suit both parties”, wrote Kanter, although “no job offers were made” and there was “no suggestion that Neil could return to the BBC imminently”. 

Fran Unsworth’s replacement as the BBC’s director of news and current affairs “will be pivotal in any decision to restore Neil”, Kanter continued. Unsworth announced in September that she too would be stepping down in the new year, after more than 40 years at the BBC. 

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