Evan Davis makes a strong start on debut as Eddie Mair’s PM replacement

Ben Dowell listens in as the former Newsnight man makes his mark on the much-loved Radio 4 news show

Programme Name: The Bottom Line - TX: 20100101 - Episode: n/a (No. n/a) - Picture Shows:   - (C) BBC - Photographer: n/a

“Hello there,” said Evan Davis in what for many Radio 4 listeners is quite an important moment – his first words as Eddie Mair’s replacement on PM.

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Yes, lovely, warm, witty urbane Eddie had left us. Lovely Eddie, our very own Radio Times columnist who made Radio 4’s 5pm news show into his own warm image, had sadly departed for the commercial uplands of LBC. He can’t really be replaced… can he? Not by Evan Davis…?

Well, yes he can, actually, and rather effectively as it turns out. Davis actually made a very good start on his first stint in the hot seat.

His “hello there” may have just been two words but they captured the style of the show – serious, informed but with a wryness and lightness of touch and a human way of painting the news in colour that is relatable whatever the horrors we’re being told about.

He clearly knows what the tone is.  “So… guess what,” he joked before he started. “Having survived several years of people saying ‘you’re not as good as Jeremy Paxman’, I now look forward to people saying you’re not as good as Eddie Mair’.”

But he was nearly as good, chatting amiably away with James Naughtie (“Nice to talk to you Jim”) in the early section of the show before Naughtie presented one of his very long, very interesting reports from the frontier of Trump’s America.

Introducing an upcoming item on whether news these days is too downbeat and grim also presented an opportunity for what may in time become known as classic Evan. “Probably not a good way to hand over to Zeb Soanes with the headlines,” he said, later introducing the same item with the words: “It’s my first day on PM – have you noticed? Maybe don’t answer that.”

Evan also earned his crust with another piece of broadcasting about that dreaded subject of Brexit and the various Irish backstops that are being thrashed out and that no-one (go on, admit it) really understands. Well, Evan really did understand what he was talking about.

And yes, while there were fears he would be too analytical and rather cold for a show like PM, he certainly proved on debut that he understands the show and has the right touch, the right mix of warmth and sheer intelligence and journalistic authority.

He also spent most of the final ten minutes dissecting sweet viral animal videos, including the recent clip of a bear cub bravely trying to scale a snowy mountain with the mother bear looking on. “What kind of news do we want,” he pondered in a revealing chat with psychologist Steven Pinker? Why does most news hone in on (often bleak) events and not trends?

It was fascinating stuff. But the bear video was, Davis finally admitted, his favourite media item of the last week.

And if that’s not the words of a man who’s just right for PM, I don’t know what is.

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PM continues on Radio 4 at 5pm on weeknights