Eddie Mair on the Radio Times Festival: “I’ll be signing my book, Robert Peston, My Part in his Downfall”

The broadcaster on why he's taken an entire week off to prepare for his festival sessions with David Attenborough and The Archers— and why he's selling the film rights to Peston's life story...

This will be my last column before the Radio Times Festival. I am taking the whole of next week off just to prepare for an event that’s so big, so… everywhere, that it makes Christmas look like a whelk stall.

If you’re unaware of the Festival [buy tickets here], then let me be the first to congratulate you for emerging successfully from that coma. At the end of September, at the very point in the calendar where none of us knows whether to dress for winter yet, thousands of people will converge on a purpose-built palace in London to celebrate all that is wonderful about broadcasting.

I have BEGGED the Radio Times people to mention the Festival somewhere in the magazine, to give you some clue as to what it’s all about, and I hope to goodness they’ve taken my advice this week. The three questions I’m most often asked in the street are: “When is the Radio Times Festival?”, “How do I get tickets for the Radio Times Festival?” and “Why don’t you pick up that bonnet, put down that penny whistle, stop begging for change and get a real job?”

I’m thrilled to say I will be in attendance, signing copies of my new book: Robert Peston, My Part in His Downfall. It’s a controversial unauthorised warts-and-all biography, which has already been lambasted by critics for spending three chapters discussing Robert’s warts. But I say to them: when you’ve spent as long as I have in radio studios listening to Robert talk, you do search around for something – anything – to distract you from what he’s actually saying.

So I have become something of an authority on the cauliflower-shaped growths on his never- done-a-day’s-work-in-his-life hands. The critics can scoff. I have already sold the film rights to Robert’s life story. Robert is being a touch precious about finding the right actor to play him – Omar Sharif having died recently – but I can tell you the film will have a PG certificate.

I will be taking part in a number of sessions at the Festival. On opening night, this Thursday, it’s me inside that gorilla costume stalking Sir David Attenborough as he discusses six decades in broadcasting. On the Friday I’m in charge of the lights for the session hosted by BBC Radio’s Head of Director of In Charge of Radio, Dame Helen Boaden, entitled “Radio in the Dark”.

On the Saturday please do not miss the event in which I discuss my hitherto secret role behind the scenes in shepherding Call the Midwife to our screens. I’ll also be hosting a session featuring some of the stars of The Archers, and will be sitting down with Mr Presto for an hour of riveting and lively conversation. 

In all candour, I have no idea what we will do for the hour. My guess is it will be like our recent Radio 4 interview programme, the title of which matters not one whit, which was essentially a Robert monologue with occasional interruptions. If I wasn’t already booked to be in it, I’d be buying tickets to see it.

On the Sunday there is a session hosted by my agent of 35 years (our time together, not her age), Anita Land. The niece of Lew Grade, she looks back at the archive of a whole evening of ITV programming from one night in 1964, which the impresario arranged to have recorded for posterity. An interesting event in and of itself, and for me, a chance to finally meet her. 

If you haven’t already got your tickets to the Radio Times Festival, buy them here OR phone this number 0871 2305 539. See you there!