Robert Peston caused a stir earlier this week when he quit his role as the BBC’s economics editor to take up the vacant political post at ITV. What’s rumoured to have swung his decision to jump ship is his own politics show – Peston on Sunday – to rival that of the BBC’s Andrew Marr.
Reports have suggested ITV will position their broadcast head-to-head with the BBC’s, something Marr recently told RadioTimes.com was a “strange logic – or illogic” given recent discussions about whether BBC should air their 10 o’clock news bulletin in direct competition with the commercial broadcaster.
But the BBC’s former politics editor Nick Robinson – who held the equivalent political post at ITV from 2002-2005 – thinks a direct clash will be avoided, with Peston’s new show airing at 10am, an hour later than Marr’s “in the hope that an audience will watch the first one and then switch over to the second.
“That would be my instinct,” he added, “although that would be opposite Murnaghan on Sky, of course.”
Robinson – who was interviewed by Peston at the Cheltenham Literature Festival this weekend – told RadioTimes.com that he believes his colleague had “always hankered to go back” to politics, after working as political editor at the Financial Times earlier in his career.
He added: “I moved from the BBC to ITV and sometimes you have to move because people don’t quite see you in the way you want to be seen. Sometimes it does require the courage to say no, I’m going to do something different. I’m going to get out and start at a new organisation where they’ll see me in a slightly different way. It’s a good thing to do.”
Robinson believes that competition is healthy and says that recently there’s not been enough between the two broadcasters. “We’ve had a period where the BBC’s been allowed to think that opinion formers all watch them. I’ve worked for ITV, I’ve never worked for Sky but I’d be perfectly happy to work for either, and it’s really healthy that people go to bed thinking, ‘Christ, they may have a better guest and they ask a better question and they may have a better story than I’ve got,’ because you’re better as a result of that. I was opposite Andy Marr as political editor of ITV News. I was on ITV News, he was on the BBC, and boy was that scary because I knew how good he was.”
Robinson switched back to the BBC in 2005 to become political editor, a post he held until this summer when he announced he was joining the Today programme after undergoing treatment for lung cancer earlier this year.
He assumes his duties on Radio 4 from November, but says there was a spell during his illness when he thought he’d never broadcast again after his vocal chord was damaged during an operation.
“When I woke up from the operation I could barely be heard, I had no voice. There was a big worry I wouldn’t be able to broadcast at all because broadcasters need voices,” he said. “The good news is it’s a lot better than it was, it’s not perfect.
“I tell you what’s the hardest thing is, and it’s less a problem now, but that lack of confidence. The voice is something you take for granted – like breathing, walking – you open your mouth and out come words. And particularly for a guy who talks as much as I do, you really take it for granted. But when you have to start thinking about it – should I not have this conversation because I ought to rest my voice? Should I not talk in this environment because it’s too noisy? – suddenly something you do every day and you take for granted becomes something you have to really think about.”
Robinson is planning lots of lunches with Today presenters “to get their advice”, but before he joins the Radio 4 airwaves, television viewers can watch him seeking the wisdom of former Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson in a BBC1 documentary airing tonight.
“I was always interested in the notion of leadership. It’s on the pitch – can we translate it off the pitch? In other words, what’s in the dressing room – can we also apply it to the boardroom or the cabinet room?
“I genuinely hope that people can watch and enjoy this documentary and find it interesting who are definitely not United fans, not Ferguson, but not even football fans because it’s not really about that – the purpose of the film is not to have a nostalgia fest about United’s greatest moments, although there’s a bit of that. It’s really to say this guy knew how to motivate, to excite, to discipline incredibly well paid incredibly talented young men – how do you do that and can the skills that make you do that be applied to business or politics or a voluntary organisation?”
Sir Alex Ferguson: Secrets of Success airs tonight at 10:30pm on BBC1. Nick Robinson’s new book, Election Notebook, is on sale now