BBC political correspondent Chris Mason is the new host of Radio 4’s flagship show Any Questions after he won the battle to succeed Jonathan Dimbleby, The Londoner can reveal.
“I can’t quite believe it,” Mason tells us, explaining “taking over from a guy called Dimbleby you think ‘blimey, that scares the hell out of me’ — in an exciting way. “Of all the surnames for my predecessor to have in the annals of British broadcasting… the Dimbleby family – flippin heck! All three have been towering names.”
Jonathan’s brother David was the host of Question Time for 25 years, while their father Richard hosted Panorama and is commemorated with a plaque in Westminster Abbey. Mason said of the race to succeed Dimbleby that he was “flattered at every stage when I was still in it, and even more flattered when I realised I was the only one still in it. “Once I’ve got over the sense of not being David Moyes to Dimbleby’s Alex Ferguson, perhaps the sheer terror will subside.”
Mason credits the BBC’s Brexitcast, which he presents alongside Laura Kuenssberg, Katya Adler and Adam Fleming, as helping him get the job. “Brexitcast managed to hook itself onto two rising tides: podcasting and Brexit. Even if you’re a bunch of complete eejits you’re going to do fairly well,” he said.
The popular podcast has now become a TV show as fans lap up the more informal take on politics. Mason hopes to bring that to Any Questions.
“My approach to doing what I do has always been that you can be serious and informal,” he tells The Londoner. He wants to move on from “the old stereotype of the BBC newsreader in a dinner jacket on the radio”, which was “never conversational”.
He expects to start in the next few weeks though admits he may have to battle nerves for his first show. “When that first Friday is confirmed then the heart might flutter a little quicker.”
A touch of brass
The Westminster arms race escalates. As Extinction Rebellion draws both headlines and the ire of politicos with its loud drum circles, a small throng of Remain supporters have been braving the rain with their own secret weapon: a euphonium. The Europhile protesters sounded brass to accompany their rendition of Solidarity Forever, with emphasis on the words “For the Union makes us strong…” Not to be outdone, Extinction Rebellion has its own version, replacing the chorus with the words: “No comment and no caution, and always know your rights!” Right on.
Eyebrows were raised on Monday when Ian Hislop appeared to perform a balletic dance as part of his BBC4 documentary on Fake News. Evidence of so-called “deepfake” technology? He was having none of it: “Who says it was faked?” he asked, scolding The Londoner. “Typical MSM! Loser!” How TV corrupts.
Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda has an unlikely love: the capital of Wales. “Life in Cardiff is wonderful,” says Miranda, who is filming the second series of His Dark Materials there. “I have the advantage of having a four-year-old son who’s very into knights and dragons, so there’s a castle every 50 feet. You guys have got ’em like we’ve got rest stops in New Jersey.”
Whodunnit crowd at County Hall
Mark Gatiss popped up at the second birthday of Agatha Christie’s Witness for the Prosecution last night with his husband Ian Hallard, as stars descended on London County Hall. Both Gatiss and Hallard have a connection to Christie — they have appeared opposite David Suchet in Poirot.
The show plays out on the red benches of the Council Chamber in London County Hall, once the stronghold of the Ken Livingstone-led Greater London Council. Other guests included Desert Island Discs host Lauren Laverne, TV presenter Saira Khan and singer Jamelia, who has just launched an online talk show. “After years of begging for a seat, I decided to build my own table,” she said recently.
Across the river in Chelsea, Elizabeth Hurley was at the OKA Chelsea store to attend the collaboration between OKA and designer Ron Arad. Hurley has lately been active raising awareness for breast cancer, speaking candidly on ITV about losing her grandmother to the disease.
Boris Johnson took a swipe at his old Tory colleague Oliver Letwin earlier this week as he talked up Margaret Thatcher. Speaking at Charles Moore’s book launch, the PM praised Thatcher’s local government reforms but added “even if the solution she chose [the poll tax] was undermined through characteristic brilliance by my friend Oliver Letwin”. Letwin said he wanted a right of reply. Duly granted. He points out to The Londoner: “Some of us have learned from our mistakes.”
Boris Johnson is also in the crosshairs of fearsome biographer Tom Bower, who tells The Londoner there are some difficulties keeping track of the PM’s life. “The problem is it changes every day,” he sighs, adding: “It’s a battle to keep him in power so I can sell the book”.
Lisa Nandy MP has strong opinions on the name of Manchester City Council’s gritting machine: “Absolutely has to be Gritney Spears or I am putting in a complaint.”
Diana producers seeks Harry's quids
The team behind Call Me Diana, the Princess Diana musical featuring Natasha John in the title role, is putting together a DVD and looking for funding — though they already have one plan. Brian Watson, the producer of the “moving tribute to the People’s Princess”, which The Londoner reported on in August, has his eye on Prince Harry as a possible investor. He points out one song, Quids In, is about the newsmen hoping to make money from Diana. “I think Prince Harry might well approve.”
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