Eddie Mair presents an afternoon news and current affairs show, PM, on BBC Radio 4 which I listen to two or three times a week on my TuneIn Radio app.
Mair is undoubtedly one of the best interviewers I have ever heard, and I’ve worked with/for a few good ones in my time. He is very smooth and silky, has great attention to detail and keeps his focus on the issues of the interview without forgetting to listen to the answers being given and following up. He is prepared to interrupt and talk over his guests but doesn’t do so in a bombastic way. He is very, very good at what he does.
Mair interviewed London Mayor Boris Johnson on TV the other day — an interview that some have gleefully reported left Johnson’s reputation in tatters and was the equivalent of a bicycle crash. (I’m not kidding: see Boris Johnson caught in bicycle crash of an interview with Eddie Mair – Patrick Wintour, The Guardian.)
It really is a good interview, with Johnson, who Caitlin Moran famously described as “a posh albino fanny hound disabled by his own funnyness” clearly caught in the headlights. Moran described to Kim Hill (probably NZ’s ultimate radio interviewer) how Johnson whose biggest priority is to be funny has evolved into the next generation of politics — making people feel good rather than dealing with ‘nasty politics’ or actually declaring a manifesto, values or a plan.
Watch it here at the BBC …(the ‘bike crash’ starts about 7 mins in):
or, if that’s not available, here’s an audio recording of the whole thing (15 mins)
Observe how, towards the end, as the heat begins to show, Johnson vainly tries to fly the ‘What people really want to know’ flag, citing the ‘triviality of politics’ because the focus on these inconvenient issues of integrity and trustworthiness was starting to bite. That’s a strategy routinely deployed by politicians-under-pressure the world over when they don’t like the questions being asked — notably in this part of the world by NZ prime minister John Key responding (er, not really) to questions about the Tea Pot tapes citing ‘the issues that matter’.
Remember this “Strain of ‘teapot tape’ shows as Key storms out of press conference” from 3News during the last election?:
John Key storms out of media conference rather than answer questions about Tea Pot tapes – 3News (afterwards like this:
You cannot be too hard on politicians. It is the function of BBC journalists to bash up politicians, particularly people like me. So, I should have realised that they were going to want to talk about all this old stuff. My head was full of facts and figures about housing in London and what we were doing with Olympic legacy. I was all primed to spiel about that. Unfortunately I was not good on the detail of stuff that happened in my life about 20 years ago. … Fair play to Eddie. He landed a good one. If the BBC can’t bash Tory politicians what is the point of the BBC?
Disingenuous? Yes. But quite adroit politics with a smidgen of damage control.
Reflecting on it, one of the other things I like about Eddie Mair is that he asks hard, pressing questions (“Do you want to be prime minister? Say it …”) and bold statements of summary, even insults like “You’re a nasty piece of work, aren’t you?” … but in a well-mannered way, and with good humour. (“Where is he [Michael Howard] now, eh?”) Kudos.