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Wednesday, 16 January, 2002, 17:34 GMT
Spinning in the air
Sir Jimmy Young
The BBC insists there's years yet in Sir Jimmy
By media correspondent Torin Douglas

So now we know. After months of speculation, Jimmy Young - Sir Jimmy, since the New Year's Honours list - will leave the Radio 2 lunchtime slot he has made his own at the end of this year.

From 2003 he will present a new weekend current affairs programme on the network.

For all the courtesies in the BBC statement announcing the news (Sir Jimmy says: "I've thoroughly enjoyed 28 years of presenting 'the Prog' and I'm looking forward to one more year") the shock waves of last autumn's newspaper stories, confirming that BBC executives were actively seeking a replacement, still reverberate around Broadcasting House.

For "managing the talent", as it is known, is one of the most important skills in broadcasting. The ability to spot, woo, retain, and get the best out of key performers is what makes the difference between a successful network and an also-ran.

Saying goodbye

The shock waves of last autumn's newspaper stories still reverberate around Broadcasting House

And sadly, the ability to say goodbye to them at the right time, and in the right way, is also an important part of the process - as the unfortunate handling of the Jimmy Young succession has demonstrated.

When Nicky Campbell told the Daily Telegraph last November he had been offered the lunchtime slot by Radio 2's controller James Moir and turned it down, it brought the matter out into the open.

Campbell currently presents Radio Five Live's morning phone-in and Watchdog on BBC One and is highly regarded for his accessible, but still serious, style.

According to the Campbell interview, Moir told him "You are the anointed one".

It wasn't the first time his name had been linked with the job - similar stories had trickled out over the previous two years - but what was different was that Campbell was confirming it.

He told the paper he preferred to stay at 5 Live, at the "cutting edge of current affairs" rather than go to the "green pastures" of Radio 2.


Jimmy Young
Politicians' favourite: With former PM John Major
It prompted a wave of newspaper discussion, including a carefully-worded statement from a Radio 2 spokesman: "It's important to appraise the editorial direction of our programmes.

"Our discussions about the Jimmy Young programme are part of the process. As a matter of course, a number of soundings have been made to leading presenters, one of whom was Nicky Campbell."

Even with a successful programme like the Jimmy Young Show - not only attracting well over five million listeners a week but also still coaxing revelations from politicians - such planning is mere common sense.

A controller who did not have such discussions, particularly about a key show with an 80-year-old presenter, would be neglecting their duty.

Younger presenters

Sir Jimmy Young
Sir Jimmy can coax revelations out of his guests
But with Radio 2 already hiring younger presenters such as Jonathan Ross and Mark Lamarr, in a successful bid to woo younger listeners, Campbell's revelation prompted a fierce newspaper debate about ageism, with columnists lining up on both sides.

"Time to put Jimmy out of his misery: Broadcasters need to practise what they preach to politicians" was the headline for Mark Lawson's Guardian article. "The show's over, Jimmy" agreed Carole Malone in the Sunday Mirror.

But more people came to the veteran broadcaster's aid. "Jimmy is too young to go at 80" wrote Quentin Letts in the Sunday Telegraph, while a group of MPs drew up an early day motion in his support.

Now that the issue has been resolved and Sir Jimmy's departure date is fixed, the debate will rage again. And of course the speculation as to who's to take over from him will begin in earnest.



Is it time for a new voice on Radio 2?



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