It is 4:59 on a weekday afternoon. As much of the UK prepares to head for home after work, Eddie Mair is getting ready to catch people up on the events of the day.
In a studio at the BBC’s Broadcasting House in central London, Mair sits down at a microphone, as he and his team prepare to do another edition of the PM programme on Radio 4. The station continuity announcer indicates that its 5pm, and the pips follow. Then, Mair begins the programme, introducing the stories to come that hour, and segments through the hour in the warm approach with hints of humour that has made PM a Radio 4 institution.
To many people, the mix of starting with serious news but adding his unique broadcasting style is what Mair is known for. Yet, more recently, he has expanded his work onto television, fronting the Newsnight programmes in the wake of the Jimmy Savile scandal which sent the BBC into unknown directions. However, his interview with London Mayor Boris Johnson on the 24th of March on the Andrew Marr Show will perhaps be his crowning achievement, having channelled Jeremy Paxman, was ahead of a documentary on Johnson to be aired on BBC Two the following night. The interview made headlines and raised questions about the political performance of Johnson as Mayor, his future in the Conservative caucus and if he would be a strong Prime Minister if the Conservatives were re-elected.
While some supporters criticised Mair for the interview (including Johnson’s own father), Johnson said Mair was brilliant, in an interview with The Guardian. “There is no doubt that is what the BBC is for—holding us to account,” Johnson said. “I fully concede it wasn’t my most blistering performance, but that was basically because I was set to talk about the Olympics and housing in London and he wanted to talk about other things, some of them, my private life and so on, of quite some antiquity, the details of which I wasn’t brilliant on.”
Indeed, Mair, in an interview with journalism students at Northampton University, said much was achieved of the interview. “We achieved what we wanted out of it, which was to look in detail at some of the stuff that appeared in the documentary that is a less cuddly picture of Boris than the public know and to get him to talk about that,” Mair said according to a report from The Guardian, adding that Johnson did appear a bit unsettled. “I think we made him think a little, or at least slightly unsettled him from his usual very measured and very confident performance,” Mair said. “It was about trying to examine other aspects of his past and his character.”
Mair said in an interview process, he wanted to get people to say things that they would have not said previously. “Ideally, I want to make an interviewee think in an interview, because often politicians have their brief, their notes, and a message they want to stick to,” Mair said.
Mair has indeed shown why many believe he is the next Paxman, and why he has become the epic interviewer he has been known for, through his line of questions and the presentation to which he does it. For student journalists, he has also become a role model to look up to for their own crafts.