Good Evening, Good Morning…

Did I get this right? I turn on the telly on late Sunday morning and see Gary Robertson presenting Sunday Politics. I turn over to Radio Scotland on Monday morning to hear Gary Robertson presenting Good Morning Scotland. I tune into Newsnight on Monday night and there is…Gary Robertson. A mere six hours later I listen to the news on GMS and there he is – again – Gary bloody Robertson.

Three programme strands, two different platforms, one presenter. That’s not a schedule – it’s an overdose!

Is it a trick for Children in Need, I ask myself. Are they waiting for the complaints before he appears again to say: “Only joking…send your cheques to Pudsey Bear” But of course, this is BBC Scotland where the news operation is steadily disintegrating before our eyes so this is the latest manifestation of a management which has forgotten, if it ever knew in the first place, what an audience wants and how to show it respect.

What does the overloading of output on television and radio with one presenter tell us? Well, that the concept they used to teach us – those mighty managers who know so much – that each programme has its own identity, has been jettisoned. They told us for years to take ownership of our programmes so that we felt committed to the output, so that we cared about our individual show and would  give it everything we had. How the hell do you do that when they bounce the same person from show to show, sometimes within the same day? It’s bad enough for production staff but for presenters, the voice and face of the output, it makes a joke of the entire station.

I couldn’t have been alone is saying: “Is that all they’ve got? The same guy on a specialist politics programme, then on a current affairs programme AND a three-hour general news programme?”

It makes the national broadcaster look like a one-horse station that simply doesn’t have the talent to staff all the programmes it’s committed to. I don’t know if you remember Border Television based in Carlisle which for 30 years had a front man, the indefatigable and irrepressible Eric Wallace. He was Mr Border to generations and was fondly remembered when he died in 2004. But, with respect, Border is a one-horse station by comparison with the mighty BBC. Is Robertson the new Eric Wallace?

I think of each programme, radio and television, as a door you enter into a different world with new surroundings, contrasting voices and faces with new things to learn or to be informed about. Simply slotting in the same presenter as the programme before is the easiest and most dramatic way to dilute its individuality. It says: “We can’t be bothered, so why should you?”

It also raises a problem for presenters who all – believe it or not – devise their own on-air persona, a slightly turbo-charged version of themselves which is needed in order to make broadcasting work. Merely “being oneself” doesn’t cut it on air. So, in the case of Gary Robertson, a totally professional, clear-spoken exponent of the art, in my opinion, is Hyper Gary on radio. He mimics the excitable tone you hear on Radio Five where everything is racing to a conclusion, even when there isn’t one. That’s why he was brought in, because in 2006 the Head of Radio, our old friend Jeff Zycinski, wanted that sound to replace old farts like me…makes it sound less Old BBC and therefore likely to attract a younger audience. No sign of it happening yet.

The trouble with the Five Live approach is that it doesn’t translate well to television. You can’t be hyper on autocue. Everything is slower and staged and less spontaneous than radio so you need a different, or at least, an adjusted persona to carry it off.

In the fleeting notice I’ve taken so far, it looks like this transition is taking time to appear. Gary, relaxed and involved while on radio, hasn’t shed the look of the Rabbit in Headlights in the telly studio. It’s a curious thing because it’s evident even in people whom I don’t like as presenters – the casual ease with which they command the studio, constantly relating to the audience, and making you feel that something is right about what you’re watching. You should never be distracted by the presence of the presenter – because he’s ill at ease in some way – but you should be led by him. That transformation into the consummate communicator, if it ever comes at all, is developed over time learning to “wear” the programme like a coat so he becomes integral to it, accepted by production team and audience alike. The presenter should become the embodiment of the programme, a very difficult proposition if he is parachuted in and the pushed into different output doing different things.

A version of this can be made to work successfully, I think. Andrew Marr combines a Sunday telly show with Start the Week on radio. And you can swap genres so John Humphrys doubles as Today presenter and Mastermind host.

But I think BBC Scotland is taking it too far. First, it is asking a lot of the audience to overlook the flooding of their programmes by an individual and I’m not convinced that Gary Robertson, however strong a pillar of the output, can truly be said to be popular on the scale necessary to carry this off. There is for example a deep affection for Jackie Bird and Sally Magnusson that transcends the programmes they present, a status I doubt anybody would attribute to Robertson.

Secondly, it actually makes the news operation look threadbare, shorn of enough top pros to do justice to the schedule. That lacks respect for the audience.

And to what I believe is the main point – this isn’t a decision made for the right editorial reasons – because it suits the talents of the presenter and meets the demands of the audience – but because it’s a knock-on effect of something else. London, the Director General, I believe, wanted another woman’s voice on the Today programme. Hear, hear. That meant losing one of the existing team. Naughtie was nominated to surrender a couple of his slots. What to do with him then?  Why, send him to Scotland to fill in there on GMS. But there weren’t slots until Gary Robertson was freed up, at his request, I would imagine. After all he has been touted by the Head of Radio as not only the voice of the station but as the face as well so he wouldn’t want to be upstaged by a bigger “star” like Naughtie.

In other words, the absurd phenomenon of Gary Robertson becoming unavoidable on our radios and screens isn’t a strategic manoeuvre by executives, it’s the spatchcock impact of uncoordinated management decision-making.

And those poor management decisions are beginning to pile up, it seems. Why else would senior staff be leaving in this, the biggest 12 months in BBC Scotland’s history? I hear of three departures, one of them an internal promotion away from the news department and two straight out the door, all of them with years of experience.  Two of them are editors only appointed in the last round of changes. Why can’t Scotland hold on to staff in what should be the best place to work in Scottish journalism? Could it be a morale issue? Are people so sick of the management regime, described by the NUJ organiser Paul Holleran as the worst he’s known in 20 years, that they’re jumping ship?

So many staff have been weeded out and ejected – some of us gladly – in the brutal redundancy process that even the day-to-day functioning of the department is becoming a headache as we head into 2014. New staff? Well, most of the new intake are unqualified newcomers who will be “trained on the job” so we shouldn’t look there for the kind of top level knowledge and management skills needed.

Maybe they should follow the Naughtie precedent and get London to run the Scottish newsroom. They could integrate GMS and Today and eventually do away with a separate broadcasting centre in Scotland so we could all be better together.

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0 thoughts on “Good Evening, Good Morning…

  1. Derek, your last sentence says it all. Death by salami cuts.

    It could also be conjoined with a retreat to London after torching the outpost.

  2. Derek,

    As an avid listener to Radio Scotland over many years, I believe you are right to highlight the issues with GaryR appearing on TV as well as his radio slots.

    I find that he is a bit of a patsy on TV with nothing like the interviewer’s sharpness he has about him while on radio.

    Perhaps you might start a campaign to get non-journalists off the Radio Scotland airwaves (such as the J Beattie ‘show’) and restore the much missed Isobel Fraser instead.

    Yourself to follow along asap, of course!

  3. Sounds like people can see the writing on the wall for BBC Scotland and are moving accordingly. I’ve seen it every time a company I’ve been at starts making people redundant – the best folk decide to get out while they can still do so on their own terms, meaning the company is left with the detritus. Mass redundancies tend to just lead to a clearing out of all the good staff, which doesn’t bode well for the shell of a company they leave behind.

  4. ” There is for example a deep affection for Jackie Bird and Sally Magnusson that transcends the programmes they present”.
    You’re joking here of course. Two autocue readers who read out anti Scottish bile day in day out .

    • cynicalHighlander

      Like chalk on a blackboard, teeth tingling.

    • Roibert a Briuis

      ” There is for example a deep affection for Jackie Bird and Sally Magnusson that transcends the programmes they present”. Really!!!!! so which one do you fancy the most Derek…..? Both IMHO are well above their pay grade with a lack of real presence gravitas or personality ‘pretty mouthpieces only’. Best moved on to the radio really where they would probably sink without trace and save some money too.

  5. Hi Derek

    Something struck me as odd a few weeks back…..

    Andrew Kerr had been fronting the Sunday Politics Scotland for weeks, and I assumed (rightly or wrongly) that he had permanently replaced Issy Fraser as the main presenter.

    Then came the SNP Conference from Perth with young Andra fronting the Beebs coverage including the bit where they broke with tradition and protocol and allowed Blair McDougall a two minute rant about the SNP.

    The following day, I tuned into the Sunday Politics Scotland and was surprised to see Gary R presenting, och I thought they are probably just giving Andra a wee rest after all that work in Perth……

    Then Gary R cut away for the 1 o’clock bulletin read by……….Andrew Kerr !!!!

    Presumably both the show and bulletin’s both come from PQ……so clearly Andra was in the building but some one else was presenting his show and he was bumped down from presenter to newsreader…..a tad humiliating for the poor Aberdonian loon

    Any ideas/theories as to why this happened…..surely Wee Andra wasnae put on the naughty step for Blair’s rant ? Are there only 2 presenters available in the whole of PQ at Sunday Lunchtime ?

    Yours awfie confused fae Aberdonia

  6. ” There is for example a deep affection for Jackie Bird and Sally Magnusson that transcends the programmes they present”.

    I assumed that Derek was just being subtly ironic

  7. I’ve heard Naughtie a few times and he seems out of his depth in Scotland. Maybe once he has been here a bit longer he’ll have a better understanding of the Scottish political scene but at the moment,well he has a bit to go.
    And your right ,Gary Robertson is very excitable. He sometimes gets carried away and comes up with bizarre assumptions about the person he is interviewing and tries to attribute words or views that they don’t have.Ten years time he’ll be like Gordon Brewer who frankly can’t be taken seriously.
    And while I’m here. I’d really like to hear Derek’s views on the virtual news blackout about the Scottish Labour MPs behaviour over the bedroom tax. The net is all over this yet the media circle the wagons round these Labour MPs.

  8. James Naughtie’s cameo, quasi august royal celebrity, appearances, on @bbcgms have been largely restricted to bidding, “Good Morning” to sundry weather or traffic announcers, and to saying, “Let’s have some weather.”
    He was reported as making twice weekly appearances, but managed only one day recently. No surprise that regular presenters might complain of out-of-joint-noses. He will, doubtless, have a chance to participate in the general shredding of the ScotGov’s White Paper this month, but you can bet your shirt that he will never raise the question of why 47 Labour MPs failed to vote against the Bedroom Tax yesterday.
    Radio Scotland is thoroughly dire, as any listener to the station from 8.50am on, will confirm. There is simply little objective reporting of the day’s news, which is engulfed by the radio toothpaste of celeb-obsession, TV programmes, phone-ins, and the anodyne pap which characterises the lunchtime programming (
    Murray Pittock’s series on the origins of Scottish Nationalism on BBCRadio4 represent exactly the kind of excellent informative radio that Scottish listeners deserve to hear and which would inform those voices who say they need “more information”. Cynics might ask, “If it is so good, why is it not on Radio Scotland?”
    Scotland deserves better, and many of your ex-colleagues are well able to deliver just that on BBCScotland radio and TV.
    An example of such excellence can be heard on Radio Scotland every Sunday from 9am to 10am.
    Tune in.

  9. Derek let’s be honest Gary only fills in when Prof Curtice is unavailable , the other anchorman of BBC Scotland

  10. A broadcaster that cannot bring itself to report on the failed Commons Bedroom tax motion last night is not fit for purpose. Newsnight last night featured a barely comprehensible article on the NHS in Cumbria.

  11. Oh patience people, wait til next year when something big happens Naughtie will show his talents.
    Headlines like deer controls (BBC today) are not for him but a right big Royal wedding will suit him nicely-it’s in the runes

  12. Jackie MacPherson? Eh mind when she used tae drink in the Scout Bar in the Westport. 🙂

  13. Derek,

    I have to say, thank your choice of deity (or none) that it was Gary Robertson. It could (and I’m sure has on some occasions) have been Gordon Brewer or Andrew Kerr. At lease wee Gary has the common decency to allow people to answer his (or possibly Paul Sinclair’s?) questions. Gary at least gives both sides an easy ride, not just one side.

    I have no deep affection for Jackie Bird or Sally Magnusson and I don’t think you’ll find many of us on the independence side do.

    We all know it’s the management that’s the real problem in BBC Scotland and if it’s half as bad in there as we think it is I’m not surprised people are leaving. They are getting rid of anyone who has real investigative skills. They don’t want ‘good journalism’. They want people who will do it their way and not ask any awkward questions. Will any of the ‘unqualified newcomers’ dare question Boothman-Sinclair’s word? The vast majority of the old guard in PQ are on-side and they all know how to do their duty. No orders needed, no questions asked. If we vote No next September I suspect something like your last paragraph will indeed come to pass. Scotland will be no more.

    @Bugger (the Panda)

    “It could also be conjoined with a retreat to London after torching the outpost.”

    No point in torching it BtP, they don’t own the great bastion at Pathetic Quay. I believe it belongs to some shady ‘money company’ so they wouldn’t leave us a valuable asset, just another UK debt. I’d like to see some investigative journalism looking into that story!

    I’ve wondered if the new buildings in Salford and London were financed the same debt-ridden way as PQ. If not, why not? Are they owned by the Beeb? Could be an interesting story there.

  14. two words for Jackie and Sally
    vapid and mouthpiece

  15. same goes for Catriona Shearer
    now if you want some gravitas might I suggest Mr Tumble?

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