What a noble mind was there o'erthrown. Well 'noble' is slightly overstating it, but Andrew Neil's flailing conclusion to his first Newsnight last week was a truly disconcerting piece of live television
What a noble mind was there o'erthrown. Well 'noble' is slightly overstating it, but Andrew Neil's flailing conclusion to his first Newsnight last week was a truly disconcerting piece of live television. Having conducted a series of interviews with aggressive aplomb, patronised the former British ambassador to Libya, read the news headlines with some authority and even negotiated the extemporised review of the morning papers, for a finale Neil inexplicably and literally acted out the lyrics of Gloria Gaynor's 'Never Can Say Goodbye'. Hearing the former Sunday Times editor trying to locate the word 'tomorrow' ('We'll be back the, er, next night, which, um, is tomorrow') was like hearing Hal the Computer wind down in 2001: A Space Odyssey.But, of course, Neil should get regular shifts on Newsnight now that Jeremy Vine is deserting for the 'The JV Prog'. With Neil on board Newsnight would become compulsory viewing every night, rather than merely on the Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays Paxo presents. The fact that for his debut its ratings leapt by 400,000 cannot, surely, be explained by his enemies tuning in waiting for a pratfall. Even Neil does not have that many. The guy's a love-him-or-hate-him star.The objections, outlined in an extraordinary personal assault in the Guardian last Friday, do not hold water. Granted he is a controversial figure politically and has been since he led the Sunday Times into Wapping, but television has employed more partisan figures than him. Peter Jay, when presenting Weekend World, was the prime minister's son-in-law. His successor, Brian Walden, was a former Labour MP and his successor, Matthew Parris, a Tory backbencher. The Guardian claimed that two potential guests refused to appear on Newsnight when they heard Neil was presenting. I can't believe Millbank would enforce such a boycott, but an important point of principle is involved. Politicians should not be entitled to veto whom the state broadcaster elects to interrogate them.Internally, I suspect the doubts come from the same suits who removed Neil from his Sunday morning show on Five Live. They think he is Not Very BBC. Nor is he. Neil carries from the Street of Shame to the Tube of Plenty the whiff of printer's ink. And this is his strength, just as it is the strength of Rod Liddle who has transformed Radio 4's Today from a party political knockabout to a vehicle for investigative reporting. It is not by chance the best broadcasters have frequently come from the higher echelons of print: William Hardcastle edited the Daily Mail, Alastair Burnet (whom Neil is meant to call 'Daddy') The Economist and the Express, Andrew Marr the Independent. As a preparation for the box, a career in Fleet Street sharpens your scriptwriting skills, leaves you less terrified about 'balance' and hones your news sense.Watching the Newsnight throne being contested between Paxman and Neil would be like witnessing King Kong and Godzilla clash in the night, with Kirsty Wark or Martha Kearney in the Fay Wray role. It would be utterly compulsive. Neil should resign from his publisher's job at the Scotsman - where he clearly has whatever is the opposite of the Midas touch - and the BBC should bow to the irresistible force of his ego.