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Sheep and Goats

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24 April 2012

Today at Leeds Trinity

It's the call politicians dread.

Especially when they're in the eye of the political storm. 'I've got the Today programme on the line. They want you to do an interview tomorrow - with James Naughtie'

I wasn't the one getting the call. That honour went to my long-time inky-fingered colleague Susan Pape, course leader for postgraduate print and magazine journalism at Leeds Trinity, who in terms of style and delivery is very much the sleek thoroughbred to my scruffy mongrel. For a programme aimed at Her Maj, Cam and Sam 'ar Susan very much fits the bill. 

The invitation was however originated by one of my former PGs - Dave McMullan, now a producer on the Beeb's flagship breakfast show but someone who has seen many facets of the radio industry from his first job on the now-defunct Huddersfield FM through the original Heart in Birmingham to the lofty heights of BBC Radio Four.

Dave remembered his days at Leeds Trinity, in our pioneering first decade when we were buried in the basement, living up to every journalistic stereotype in a dank, dark newsroom situated not ten paces from the door of the Student Union bar. (Quick note here to prospective trainees and their parents. We've moved. We're now in lovely new purpose-built facilities on the mezzanine floor with windows and a nice view of the trees in our semi-rural campus).

Back then I took up burning aromatherapy oils in my office not (just) because of my repressed hippy tendencies but to mask the smell of stale beer and cigs oozing through the roof void over the weekend.

Because he remembered his days in Leeds he suggested using the University College as a contributor to a considered piece on the fate of local newspapers. At the time of writing it's scheduled to go out on Thursday (26 April).

UPDATE 26 APRIL: Read Jim Naughtie's BBC online piece here and hear the broadcast from 0831 here

How refreshing for a national, London-based  agenda-setting programme to look outside London (OK, fair point - London or Oxbridge) for a contributor. Yorkshire only normally features on the national news when producers are looking for hyped-up racial tension (Channel 4), urban dereliction (that'll be Channel 4 again) or dry stone walls (everyone else).

I've been angered in recent weeks by the renewed snide and almost universally negative coverage of the BBC's move to Salford.

Even that normal voice of sanity Private Eye 's got in on the act, criticising the fact that a couple of guests on the first-ever BBC Breakfast to air from Salford came from -er- Salford.

Well, 'Remote Controller' the rest of us have put up with guests heavily drawn from London for decades. The first 'B' in 'BBC' stands for 'British' not 'Bexley' or 'Barnet' but a viewer from outer space would never know it.

Think I'm exaggerating? Wait 'til it snows. Flake hits ground in Westminster, cue shot of photogenic snow-flecked red bus driving over that bridge by Big Ben. Freezing rain causing chaos in Leeds? Not a mention; that's 'local' news.

There is a certain element of the London-based media that won't let go of the idea that bringing the BBC to the North is a bad idea. For crying out loud they've been banging on about it since 2005.

And they're still banging on about how dreadful it is to have BBC Breakfast, Five Live, BBC Sport and Blue Peter based in Salford, as well as the less flashy output of Religion and Ethics and the uber-geeky Future Media & Technology (who could happily work from anywhere with an internet link).

My simple message to the metropolis - Let It Go.

If the BBC is to have any legitimacy continuing to levy a licence fee it needs to become more British, not less. And get a sense of perspective, guys. So Five Live is in Salford. Radios 1,2,3,4 and 6 together with their various 'Xtra's are still safely in range of the Tube. Breakfast gives an alternative voice from the North; the staff on the Six, the Ten, Newsnight and the entire News Channel are still based well within the embracing arms of the M25.

Which brings us back to the subject of diversity. I've written previously about that. Arguably the best way to make the Beeb more diverse is to employ more people like Dave; people with life experience outside the confines of the Home Counties. People able to suggest excellent interviewees like Susan instead of the usual (and very tired) suspects. That's where the BBC Developing Talent team come in, committed to making the BBC much more representative of the UK as a whole. Prepared to stand up to the selfish attitudes in the South East corner. Working to make the BBC more British.

As for James Naughtie; what a gent. Gave my PGs an impromptu masterclass in journalism for nearly an hour. They were rapt, spellbound and inspired. Enthused, possibly, to follow in his footsteps.

It's always great when you have the chance to meet someone you have long respected and admired who turns out to be as pleasant and decent as you'd hoped. Not everyone is. Other examples in my experience would be the late Frank Muir and the entertainer Tommy Steele. Jim, welcome to that club.

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