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Kebabbed: Part 2
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Sunday, 2 April, 2000, 21:48 GMT 22:48 UK
Kebabbed: Part 2

Neil Kinnock: I won't be "bloody kebabbed" by an interviewer
In part two of his Radio 4 programme looking at the history of the political interview Ian Hargreaves charts the development in the 1980s of new weapons in the constant battle between journalist and politician - revealing material never broadcast before.

In the world of political interviews, the 10 years from 1980 was the Some Like it Hot decade. Sir John Nott, Margaret Thatcher's Defence Secretary, set the tone by walking out on a Robin Day interview during the Conservative Party conference in 1982.

Neil Kinnock rounded things off in an even more tempestuous encounter with James Naughtie on the World at One in 1989.

John Nott: Best known for walking out
In an interview for Kebabbed, Sir John acknowledged that the spat with Robin Day is the one thing he's remembered for. The incident was sparked when Day suggested that criticisms of Sir John from the naval establishment ought to be granted more weight than the opinions of a "here today, gone tomorrow" politician.

Ghaslty interviewers

Nott, having already announced his intention to retire from politics, felt no inclination to sustain a conversation on these terms. "I simply got bored," he says.

And although some colleagues scolded him, he also got the biggest sack of fan mail of his political life. "They said 'Thank God someone has finally taught these ghastly interviewers how to behave'."

By the early 1980s, however, these ghastly interviewers were no longer the giants they had seemed in their years of high celebrity in the sixties and seventies. The politicians had learned to combat their interviewing techniques - and new approaches were needed.

A new battle plan

On ITV, Weekend World pioneered a lengthy, forensic style of interviewing, which left nothing to chance or instinct, Brian Walden, the programme's most successful presenter says:

"It was like the charts of the kings of England. There were four possible answers, Yes, No, Don't know and Won't say and there was a plan all the way through ... so, if (the interviewee answered) No, go to 39J - that was how it worked."

A question on the Belgrano sunk Thatcher
This was television for political junkies - heavily engineered conversation between two sets of professionals. But at the other end of the changing spectrum of interview techniques was the radio phone-in, which had been imported from America in the 1970s.

By the 1980s, the genre had reached television and become part of the new armoury of political inquiry: the citizen interview.

That was how Margaret Thatcher found herself face to face with a geography teacher from Cirencester in 1983.

Sinking the PM

Diana Gould's fearless and authoritative interrogation of the prime minister over the sinking of the Argentinean warship the Belgrano during the Falklands war showed that ordinary people could sometimes reach parts the celebrity interviewer could not.

Thatcher: The best form of defence is attack
Meanwhile, the politicians had their own ideas for diversifying the interview market. Bernard Ingham, Margaret Thatcher's crusty press secretary, says he was opposed to the decision to put the prime minister on Michael Aspel's ITV chat show in 1983, but was over-ruled by her image consultants.

But she did so well - softening the Iron Lady image assembled in the miners' strike - that even Ingham became a convert to chat show politics. Soon Mrs T was in and out of Jimmy Young's Radio Two studio as often as the Today Programme.

Evasive manoeuvres

By the mid 1980s, the art of the broadcast political interview was sufficiently diverse and important that it became the subject of academic inquiry. Peter Bull, a psychologist at York University, started analysing the techniques used by politicians to evade questions.

Mrs Thatcher, he found, favoured the personal attack on the interviewer. Neil Kinnock, leader of the Opposition, went for an approach Bull calls "negative response," which involved stating at length what Labour would not do.

Kinnock's technique came spectacularly unstuck in 1989 during an interview for Radio 4's World at One.

The context was the release of some unfavourable economic data, which the Labour leader wanted to use to attack the Thatcher government's management of the economy.


But James Naughtie pressed Kinnock on the likely effectiveness of Labour's alternatives.

What listeners heard was an abrupt pause in the conversation, followed by an explanation from Naughtie that the interview had been suspended when Kinnock objected to the line of questioning, before being resumed.

The tape recorders, however, whirred on to capture the unexpurgated exchange, never previously broadcast.

In it, Kinnock raged at Naughtie, telling him that he would not take part in "a WEA lecture" on Labour's economic strategy any more than he was inclined to be "bloody kebabbed" by Naughtie.

We are grateful to Mr Kinnock for giving us the title for our series, along with permission to transmit the untransmitted material. Even across the passage of more than a decade, it makes your ears go pink.

Ian Hargreaves is professor of journalism at Cardiff University. Part 3 of Kebabbed will be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on Sunday 9 April at 1045 BST.

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26 Mar 00 | UK Politics
Kebabbed: Part 1
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