Eddie Mair: I think I’ll take the lift…

"I shudder to think of the headlines if I was crushed to death under a pile of collapsing correspondents. John Simpson would never forgive himself."

Fergus Walsh, the BBC’s medical correspondent, wrote recently that he never uses the lifts in New Broadcasting House. He resolved to always take the stairs for two reasons: one, it’s healthier; and two, he’s too impatient to wait for the lift.


Good for Fergus, I say – it’s a fine example to us all. But New Year or no, I will not be resolving to follow in his footsteps. I’d like to, but there are a LOT of storeys. For me, a walk from the Newsnight studio on -3 to the top floor, where I think the director-general has his own private lair, would in all likelihood cause me to lose consciousness – and not just from the whiff of the DG’s cologne.

Then there is the problem of the spiral staircases in New BH. Like all spiral staircases they are easy on the eye and crying out for someone in a ball gown to sweep down them majestically, but they are murder if you fail to concentrate while negotiating them. The narrow bits can be very dicey if your feet are anything over a size 8. If everyone at the BBC took the stairs instead of the lift, there would be a calamity. I shudder to think of the headlines if I was crushed to death under a pile of collapsing correspondents. John Simpson would never forgive himself.

The upside of using the stairs would be the joy of avoiding some of the BBC’s BUSIEST people. They are the ones who are so monstrously busy they can’t get in the lift and just wait for the doors to close. Oh no. They MUST push the little button that forces the doors shut at their behest.

It’s the oddest thing. I see them alongside me, waiting for the lift to arrive for sometimes a full two or three minutes. There is much shuffling of feet and looking at watches as if the process of waiting might make them ill – yet they’re not in such a hurry they take the stairs.

When the lift arrives, their sense of urgency becomes overwhelming. They may have waited for minutes on end for the lift, but the thought of waiting a further five seconds to allow the door to close automatically sends them into finger-jabbing paroxysms. They lunge at the little “door close” button and stab at it ferociously until the doors glide to a satisfying close. Invariably, they get off after one floor.

I’ve tried to consider what would make people do this. An obvious answer is that they don’t want to be in a lift with me for a second longer than necessary, and I can’t really argue with that. Or perhaps they like to have a little control over the lift, which generally seems to have a mind of its own. Maybe they’re just properly busy in a way I can’t understand.

But this mad sense of urgency is not confined to the BBC. In hotels around the world I’ve encountered the same frantic finger-stabbing. Even at resorts where the only thing people have to worry about is where to get their next cocktail, I’ve witnessed the desperate lunge for that little button.

We’re all in such a hurry. Why? I call upon lift makers to do away with the door-close button. What do you say, Schindler’s Lifts? Come on, Otis Elevator Company, why not?

Let’s enjoy the leisurely door-close, and to hell with the rush.

Eddie Mair presents PM, Monday to Friday at 5pm, and iPM Saturday at 5.45am and 5:30pm, both on BBC Radio 2.