It will be interesting to see what effect the departure in the Autumn of James Naughtie from The Today programme will have on Radio 4’s flagship news show. Although it’s fair to say that Newsnight has never been the same since Jeremy Paxman left last year, somehow I feel that Today, which still has big hitters such as John Humphrys, will continue to thrive.
That is not to say that I won’t miss James Naughtie. Even before he began his 21 year stint on Today, I enjoyed the informative, and often highly entertaining, political sketches which he penned for both The Scotsman and The Guardian.
I suspect that the two main things which Today listeners will remember Naughtie for are the extraordinary length of some of his questions and, of course, that unfortunate Spoonerism involving Jeremy Hunt.
Naughtie’s reputation for verbosity, never using one word when a dozen would do, is well deserved. By the time he gets to the end of a question you often have difficulty remembering what the subject matter actually is.
When I hear Naughtie begin a question I often feel that I probably have time to shower, shave and make breakfast before the poor interviewee gets the opportunity to answer. On one celebrated occasion in 2006 he asked US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice a question which was an impressive 183 words long. She managed to answer using just 23 words.
It does seem a little unfair on James Naughtie that so many of us remember that infamous morning when he made an uncharacteristic mistake while introducing the then Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt. To Hunt’s credit, he reacted to being called a naughty word with good grace and laughed the incident off.
Thankfully, James Naughtie will not be disappearing from the airwaves completely. As well as becoming BBC Books Editor, he will also be making a number of programmes on the arts and on politics. Nick Robinson seems like a good choice to replace Naughtie and I suspect that news junkies such as me will continue to wake up with Today every morning. But there will still be part of me that will miss James Naughtie and his questions which seem to go on for ever and ever and ever…..