BBC Radio 4

    Feedback: The Moral Maze

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    I think that one of the most terrifying things I have done in broadcasting is to chair the Moral Maze.

    It can't have been much fun for the audience either, I'm sure they preferred Michael Buerk, who is very rarely absent from the presenter's chair as he values this programme as much as any he has done.

    Why was it so terrifying for me? Well the panellists of course. David Starkey was a member on one occasion and he paid little attention to me, sinking his teeth ever deeper into what he saw as the woefully inadequate arguments of a witness.

    In one edition I presented, live as usual, Dr Starkey was being particularly vituperative, so the producer walked into the studio and put his hands around the good doctor's neck and appeared to squeeze. Whatever he did it was effective and I got a word in edgeways.

    The other difficulty is the geography of the studio. The desk is oval, with the presenter at one end, two of the panel on each side and the witness opposite the presenter. This means of course that when the panel turned to the witness they turn away from the presenter. I was reduced to plucking unavailingly on panellists' arms to shut them up. And at the end of all this I was supposed to help the witnesses make their points, summarise the arguments, develop some key observations, and get the programme out on time, before the pips.

    Michael seems to paddle calmly over the surface of the water, seamlessly directing affairs.

    However this week on Feedback we had a number of emails suggesting that he hadn't done his job in last week's edition about the monarchy, and allowed one of the witnesses, a particularly feisty Joan Smith, to be "trampled" by Michael Portillo. Others saw it differently, but I put the criticism to Michael Buerk, when I interviewed him in the Moral Maze London office, which looks as if it was last refurbished by Lord Reith.

    I began by asking MB what made a good MM edition? Did he always hope for a punch up?

    Roger Bolton presents Feedback

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