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White man gets BBC job. What went wrong?


LAST year, when the BBC required a new host for Question Time, the producers auditioned only one man. The token male, Nick Robinson, had more chance of judging Strictly Come Dancing than succeeding David Dimbleby.

The only surprise was that instead of either Kirsty Wark or Emily Maitlis from Newsnight being the chosen one, the nod went to the presenter of Antiques Roadshow and Crimewatch. Fiona Bruce’s exposure to useless artefacts and con artists evidently proved decisive.

In March this year the other hereditary Dimbleby, David’s younger brother Jonathan, announced that he was to quit Radio 4’s Any Questions? after 32 years as host: ‘It will be a wrench to leave. But the time feels right.’ 

According to the Mail, ‘staff were speculating that Jonathan Dimbleby may have come under pressure to leave the Corporation to clear the way for a more diverse line-up of presenters’. Even if the 75-year-old left of his own volition, undoubtedly there will have been relief within the BBC that a flagship programme would no longer be presented by an elderly white male.

Unsurprisingly, that pejorative description did not apply to any the names bandied around as Jonathan Dimbleby’s replacement: ‘In the era of the BBC moving towards greater equality it seems impossible that it would be a man,’ wrote Charlotte Runcie in the Telegraph. ‘The BBC isn’t short of well-qualified women, and Victoria Derbyshire, Mishal Husain, Emma Barnett and Ritula Shah are all excellent journalists who’d be more than capable.’

The Mail assessed the candidates thus: ‘Yesterday, Ladbrokes listed Newsnight host Kirsty Wark as favourite . . . with other frontrunners including BBC media editor Amol Rajan, Miss Wark’s Newsnight colleague Emily Maitlis and Radio 5 Live presenter Emma Barnett. Other contenders include Woman’s Hour host Jane Garvey and Fi Glover, presenter of Radio 4’s Listening Project.’

Between them, those two newspapers immediately came up with nine names, of whom one was a man of colour and the rest female. No one seemed in any doubt that the next host of Any Questions? would be one of the BBC’s metropolitan matrons.

Jonathan Dimbleby presented his final show in June. Earlier this week, the BBC finally identified the new permanent presenter: Chris Mason. That is Chris as in Christopher, not Christine or Christina.

Crikey. Joint host of Brexitcast, the ‘cheeky and geeky’ show which follows Question Time on Thursday evenings, Chris Mason has until recently been a BBC political correspondent whom viewers and listeners would vaguely recognise but struggle to name. He has appeared on camera at many a godforsaken by-election, remaining bright-eyed and bushy-tailed throughout the nocturnal weighing of the Labour vote in one of its rotten boroughs.

On his LinkedIn profile, the self-declared geek describes how much of his BBC career has depended upon ‘the ever important Rota Fairy being generous’; when in a benevolent mood, she permits him to do ‘a fair amount of depping as a presenter, here and sometimes even there, when the bosses have run out of better ideas’. The broadcasting angel was on his side during this clip, for which Mason was widely acclaimed for his bewildered candour.

In summary, he is a mildly irreverent, self-deprecating and congenial character, as well as being an experienced and highly competent political broadcaster. However . . . Yorkshire-born Mason has a peely-wally complexion and white privilege enabled him to attend a high-performing grammar school followed by Cambridge University. For the past 39 years Mason’s preferred pronouns have been he/his/him and this unapologetic patriarch appears unwilling to join the inordinate number of BBC employees who identify as transgender. The cisgender man is married – but to a woman, for heaven’s sake!

Yet despite ticking none of the Corporation’s crucial boxes, somehow Chris Mason has landed the prestigious role as host of Any Questions? How on earth did the BBC’s diversity auditors approve the appointment of this white-privileged, heteronormative man?

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Gary Oliver
Gary Oliver
Gary Oliver is an accountant who lives in East Lothian.

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