What is the perfect Sunday? Naturally, this varies depending on your age.
As a young child, it might be relaxing, playing games, trying to complete as little homework as possible and going to the cinema. It is far more likely for an older person to involve religious service, perhaps a roast dinner with family and the evening spent watching Antiques Roadshow and Countryfile. Your typical student – sixth form or university – will most likely use Sunday as a recovery day. Partying too hard on Saturday night, the day of rest quite literally fulfils its aim. Except for me.
For many years from the age of 14, when I had just begun studying for my GCSEs, Sunday mornings were spent in front of the TV watching The Andrew Marr Show. The agenda-setting political programme of the week involved the former BBC political editor interviewing top politicians from the major parties about their agenda. Typically, the new year would always commence with an interview with the Prime Minister, and such was the programme’s clout.
Indeed, I realised the programme was essential appointment viewing from the moment I first became interested in politics. Anyone who’s anyone in the political sphere would be watching it. Why wouldn’t you? The Sunday papers are defined by their investigative revelations; such as the pressure of only being published once a week. The Andrew Marr Show was the place where those revelations would be uncovered, and the voice of politicians would be heard. One of the first moments of political sadness was learning the programme was only on once a week rather than every day.
The idea of scrutinising politicians is as important today as it ever was. An age of deference towards leaders, where statements are made without much challenge, is the antithesis to a productive democracy. The Andrew Marr Show celebrated the importance of scrutiny, not least in the long-form interviews. Of course, at times, there would be too many guests for the allocated hour, which could make conversation jarring and scrutiny ineffective. Yet, it is a testament to both Andrew Marr and politicians that they recognised the programme was one of immense political importance.
Andrew Marr himself remains a titanic figure in political journalism. Having announced his departure from the BBC after 21 years to get his voice back, he is moving to Global to present LBC and Classic FM programmes while becoming Chief Political Commentator of the New Statesman. There is no question as to why he is in such demand. Having worked at the Independent and Daily Express, written numerous books and anchored many high-quality documentaries, every broadcaster in the land should want his quality of journalism. Indeed, he will be immensely missed by the BBC.
While a permanent replacement has not yet been announced, Sophie Raworth, the experienced and diligent newsreader, has been announced as the temporary anchor of the newly titled Sunday Morning, which I imagine will keep a similar format. The BBC must retain a political programme like The Andrew Marr Show so that scrutiny remains of politicians.
I also think it is vital given the recent decline in the volume of BBC Political Programming. There is now no head of BBC Political Programming following the departure of Rob Burley, with This Week and the Sunday Politics coming to an end. BBC Parliament also no longer has any specialist political programming, only broadcasting live or recorded coverage from the different legislatures. The amount of democratic accountability is therefore invariably weakened.
This should be immensely worrying for how future generations of young people could be inspired to become involved with politics. Of course, there are more channels than ever containing political programming, but the BBC still enjoys an authority like no other. It is meant to provide the definition of public service broadcasting, a vital part of which is surely political journalism and scrutiny.
The challenges facing the BBC remain multifaceted, not least as its Charter Renewal approaches in a few years time. The Director-General Tim Davie is desperate to prove the corporation are truly impartial and deserve to be trusted. The departure of Andrew Marr, though can be seen as nothing as a blow for the BBC. Even though he will no longer be on our screens every morning, it is vital the corporation ensures his legacy of scrutiny, diligence, and political accountability to ensure the future of the BBC and democracy.
Image courtesy of the U.S. Embassy London via Flickr