Viewers Escape to the Country as BBC strikes see flagship breakfast shows dropped

BBC1's Breakfast and Radio 4's Today cancelled due to industrial action, with The World at One, PM and The World Tonight also taken off air and other output affected

BBC1 viewers expecting to wake up to Susanna Reid and Bill Turnbull this morning instead found themselves watching Bargain Hunt, followed by an Escape to the Country special focusing on horse-friendly properties and an episode of inheritance-chasing daytime show Heir Hunters. Meanwhile, listeners tuning into Radio 4 for the Today programme had to make do with pre-recorded shows rather than the latest news with Evan Davis, as corporation staff walked out on strike.


Radio 5 Live was also affected by the industrial action, with Up All Night and Morning Reports dropped and stand-in presenters drafted in to cover 5 Live Breakfast, which was scheduled to be presented by Nicky Campbell and Clare McDonnell.

The 24-hour strike by members of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) began at midnight on Sunday night and is likely to result in changes to schedules across BBC channels throughout Monday.

On BBC1, the scheduled 11am and 12.15pm news bulletins were dropped. BBC2 viewers expecting to see BBC World News at 11.30am instead watched a repeat of Coast.

On Radio 4, Today was replaced by a series of repeated documentaries including In Search of the Real Pope Benedict. At 9am, listeners were surprised to hear Andrew Marr, who is currently absent from BBC TV and radio having suffered a stroke last month, presenting Start the Week – an old edition had replaced the scheduled one, which was to have been hosted by Tom Sutcliffe.

A special edition of Woman’s Hour was re-run instead of the planned show presented by Anita Anand. The World at One is to be replaced with repeats of Pop-Up Economics (1pm) and en episode of Soul Music on Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony (1.15pm).

Later on Radio 4, PM – normally fronted by Eddie Mair – will be replaced at 5pm by The Real George Orwell, a documentary first aired on 9 February. The World Tonight (10pm) will be replaced by an edition of Loose Ends.

Newsnight economics editor Paul Mason joined the strike, picketing outside New Broadcasting House in London. Lauren Laverne declined to appear for her 10am show on BBC 6 Music, forcing the channel to cancel a planned session by former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr. Former Charlatans frontman Tim Burgess hosted the programme instead.

The strikes, which have put up picket lines outside BBC buildings across the UK, were called by the NUJ after it failed to reach an agreement with corporation bosses over the redeployment of 30 staff members facing compulsory redundancy. The BBC is set to cut around 2,000 jobs over five years as part of its Delivering Quality First initiative, with staff at BBC Scotland, Newsbeat, Five Live, Asian Network and the World Service thought to be particularly at risk.

The strike took even hardened media pundits by surprise, with Channel 4 News presenter Jon Snow tweeting: “Where’s the Today programme? Is there a strike? Meteor attack on Broadcasting House? Death? Am I the last alive on the planet? Power cut?” Meanwhile, left-wing Independent columnist Owen Jones was booked to appear on 5 Live’s breakfast show, having recently returned from Dublin – but pulled out when his Twitter followers alerted him to the industrial action. “There was literally seconds to go,” tweeted the writer, for whom breaking a strike would have been an embarrassing error. “I completely disrupted their schedule though so that’s something.” 

NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet said: “NUJ members across the BBC are taking action to defend jobs and quality journalism at the corporation. They are angry and frustrated at the poor decisions being taken at the top of the BBC – decisions that are leading to journalists being forced out of their jobs and quality journalism and programming compromised.

“NUJ members across the BBC cannot believe why their management is failing to redeploy colleagues at risk – at the very same time as advertising job vacancies. It is a monumental waste of talent and experience. Paying needless redundancies is a waste of public money.

“This action could easily be avoided. This not just about self-interest. BBC journalists care deeply about the quality of programming and the corporation’s duty as a public service broadcaster. That is why so many are already working way beyond their contracted hours and are ‘acting up’ without financial reward, and why stress levels across the BBC are at an all-time high.”

The BBC said: “We are disappointed that the NUJ has gone ahead with today’s strike and apologise to our audience for the disruption to services. Unfortunately industrial action does not alter the fact that the BBC has significant savings targets and as a consequence may have to make a number of compulsory redundancies.


“We have made considerable progress in reducing the need for compulsory redundancies through volunteers, redeployment and cancelling vacant positions and we will continue with these efforts.”