Eddie Mair: once again it was me versus Robert Peston

"My event at The Cheltenham Literary Festival was a sell-out. His was sparsely attended, with only George Osbourne, Ed Balls and a goat"


Once again it was me versus Robert Peston. The venue? The Cheltenham Literary Festival. Face-off: Sunday, 2pm. Robert was due to appear in a small tent at that moment, discussing his latest tome, “How the Hell Did the Economy Get So Bad and Can I Fill a Book with It?” Meanwhile, in an ornate hall with a thousand seats, I was booked to host a Radio Times-sponsored event: “700 Years of Desert Island Discs”, or something.


I’m thrilled to report our event was a sell-out, while Robert’s, I am reliably informed, was sparsely attended, with only George Osborne, Ed Balls and a goat in the audience. I hope this doesn’t come across as bitter. As you know, Robert and I had a long-running feud that we patched up when Robert very graciously agreed it was all his fault. We even presented an edition of PM together. But I’m afraid to report that Robert’s new book: “No Seriously, How Did This Happen?” has opened up a new chasm of mistrust between us, into which he has poured all my hopes and dreams. And then set fire to them.

What’s the problem? Check the acknowledgements in “What on Earth Is Going On with the Economy? Really. I’m not Kidding”, and you’ll find a list of people being profusely thanked by the BBC’s business editor. Huw Edwards is on the list. Tess Daly. Tyne Daly, Tom DeLay and Tom Daley. A host of BBC insiders get the thank-you treatment. But yours truly – the only person to have bothered to have a public feud with Robert – is missing. I have resolved to remove all references to Robert from my own forthcoming volume: “My Feud with Robert Peston”, although my publisher has her doubts about the wisdom of that.

My Cheltenham session was a delight. Not because of me or anything I did, but because the audience loved Desert Island Discs and were there to show their appreciation for Kirsty Young, the programme’s producer Leanne Buckle and Sean Magee who wrote the book: “Desert Island Discs: 7,000 Years of Castaways”.

Kirsty revealed some secrets of the show (she’s never done it sober), while Leanne let us in on her off-air troubles (Kirsty has never done the show sober). Sean was the real revelation, though. I thought I knew the story of the genesis of Desert Island Discs… Roy Plomley having the idea one night in the early 1940s. But I was wrong.


Although the first broadcast was in 1942, Mr Plomley had been performing Desert Island Discs in his front parlour since 1921. Family, friends and neighbours would be invited in once a week to choose their favourite discs. One sunny August afternoon in 1921, a young John Reith was passing the open window of Roy Plomley’s house when he heard the fishmonger describe to Roy his desired Desert Island luxury*. The future BBC director-general knocked on the Plomley door and offered him a job there and then. Well, not quite there and then. The BBC hadn’t started at that point and Reith hadn’t been appointed. But Reith did promise him a series to start several years hence, perhaps during the war? The rest is history. *A fish slice