Eddie Mair explains his decision to leave the BBC: “None of my thinking has been influenced by pay problems”

The presenter of BBC Radio 4's PM explains why after over 30 years with the broadcaster he has chosen to move on

Eddie Mair (RT byline photo, EH)

The day in 1987 when the BBC first called to offer me a job, they had already sent me a rejection letter. I should have taken the hint.

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I’d travelled from Dundee to Glasgow to get the last interview slot of the day – around 5pm – for the job of Sub-Editor, BBC Radio Scotland. I thought I’d clinched it when Robin Wylie, who would go on to become my first BBC boss, looked at my application form during the interview.

“It says here that you like a good argument,” he intoned.

“No, it doesn’t,” I replied and we all laughed. I got the train back to Dundee, happy that I’d done my best.

When the first post arrived the next morning around 7am (that kind of thing happened back then) it included a letter in a BBC envelope. I thought that was a bit fast but upon opening there was a letter from BBC Scotland Personnel (that’s what HR was called back then). They were terribly sorry but I hadn’t got the job.

Crikey, I thought, they were quick off the mark to catch the last post last night. They must have really hated me. I put the letter away and decided that maybe I should carry on where I was: there might be a future in commercial radio for me.

A few hours later the phone rang. It was BBC Scotland telling me I had got the job. I told them I’d already had a letter of rejection but they assured me that was a mistake. “Happens all the time”.

Between that day and this, I’ve been fortunate to call the BBC home. BBC Scotland, Radio 4 for Breakaway and the odd PM. Radio 5 Live. BBC World Service in association with Public Radio International on a show called The World. We’d rejoice in picking up the phone and saying: “Hello? The World”. More Radio 4 – Broadcasting House, PM and iPM. Along the way various documentaries, Time Commanders (Google it), general elections and now podcasts. Filling in on Newsnight, for Andrew Marr and on Any Questions.

Eddie Mair (mag shoot, EH)

Now it’s time for me to go. Whenever anyone leaves a job, people ask: did they jump or were they pushed? There can be a lot of truth hidden behind gushing statements. Honestly, this was my choice and the main driving force behind it was a desire to do something a little different after 20 years in one job.

I’ve seen better broadcasters than me come to a premature end, including: Nick Clarke, Steve Hewlett, Howard Philpott. All silenced long before their time. I’ve no reason to believe I’ll be next, but it’s always later than you think. I didn’t want to be counting the days to retirement. Maybe I should give something else a whirl while I still can.

Another employer came along – a year ago – and wondered if we might work together sometime. This was even before BBC presenter pay was published.

None of my thinking has been influenced by the BBC’s pay problems. I’d offered, in writing, to take a cut. It tickled me to read sometimes that I was apparently refusing. The first article appeared before we’d even discussed pay, and later it was said I was staying off work in some kind of protest: in fact, as RT readers know, I was in hospital trying to avoid sepsis.

When I told them of my decision, to leave, the BBC begged me. “Please go sooner,” they said, but I insisted on working my notice.

Maybe there’s a future in commercial radio for me after all. We’ll see.

Eddie may be leaving the BBC but you can still read him every week in Radio Times

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