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End of an era for The World Tonight

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Alistair Burnett Alistair Burnett | 16:51 UK time, Wednesday, 19 September 2012

The end of an era - that's what colleagues and the twittersphere are saying about the decision by my long-time colleague, Robin Lustig, to step down from presenting The World Tonight on Radio 4 and Newshour on World Service.

Robin Lustig


I first met Robin when I joined The World Tonight as a youngish producer back in 1994 and we quickly developed a close editorial understanding, we share the same interest in international affairs and the same desire to get to the bottom of why the world is the way it is, and we have worked closely together both at Radio 4 and the World Service since then. He is an outstanding journalist and an example to all of us, both professionally and personally.

His encyclopaedic knowledge and quick-wit allows him to switch from covering international to British stories at the bat of an eye. One example sticks in my mind. On 4 June 2009, we had planned a special edition of the programme to mark two important anniversaries in recent world history. It was 20 years since Solidarity's victory in first free election in Poland since the war and also 20 years on from the crushing of Chinese pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square; the day two parts of the communist world took very divergent paths. It's the kind of big idea Robin loves getting his teeth into.

So off he went to Gdansk with a producer and we had inserts into the programme planned from Beijing. Then a couple of minutes before we went to air, the Labour cabinet minister, James Purnell, resigned from Gordon Brown's government calling on Mr Brown to stand down. We had to drop much of the planned material on Poland and China and lead with the Purnell story. The team in London set up a sequence of live interviews for Robin to do from Poland and he had to do them without much chance to brief himself. Of course he carried it off with his usual calm authority, then, apparently effortlessly, switched back to the now slimmed down special on how and why communist systems diverged on that day 20 years before.

This shows just how difficult an act to follow he will be. He will be missed by audiences here in the UK and around the world, and I will miss him a lot because he is also a really warm and supportive friend and colleague. One way to convey his humanity is that last year, when I had to spend several months in hospital being treated for cancer, he came to see me regularly and not only helped keep me sane but also saved me from the vagaries of hospital food with his own meals on wheels service.

But he is not retiring, he says he wants to go back to reporting and, if we are lucky, he will continue to be heard on our air waves with interesting stories from interesting climes.

Alistair Burnett is the editor of The World Tonight.


  • Comment number 1.

    I didn't like this news, but of course Robin's priorities must come first.
    He did a first rate job onp resenting The World Tonight on Radio 4 and Newshour on World Service.
    I'm sure he'll find it different back in the field reporting, but I'm sure it will not take him long to find his feet.
    So, Robin, here's mud in your boots!

  • Comment number 2.

    Mr. Lustig,

    Whenever I listen to Muswell Hillbilly I'll think of y'all.

    Don't be a stranger!

  • Comment number 3.

    "I first met Robin back in 1994"

    I first met him in 1968! It reminds us all of our own mortality. But this is not an obituary as he is still to slave away in front of the microphone for a few more years. I would say that being retired does let you do more of the things that you have been putting off, so Robin, do not put off retiring till it is too late to enjoy your freedom!

  • Comment number 4.

    Solidarity and Tiananaman Square conjure exciting and justifiably "feel good" media expositions in their time. In the present time, the most unlawful but accepted atrocity is the Israeli occupation and suppression of Palestine. Why has the World Tonight not explored and analysed this situation which is worse than the pogroms reported after the 2nd World War?

  • Comment number 5.

    Lustig's ruminative essays seem to be unique on the BBC. Perhaps Burnett can continue the genre and Lustig can do the same independently of the BBC?

    Ms. Walker's comment about his voice illustrate a matter of priorities: the human skull is finite and space devoted to resonance is not available to brain. I have long suspected that BBC management often gives priority to resonance.

  • Comment number 6.

    'Gordon Brown's government' and 'communist systems' are one and the same.

  • Comment number 7.

    Naag @4

    Perhaps, 'newly at large', Robin Lustig will indulge wider freedoms, in protest

    More than '400-characters' needed in what should be 'BBC conversations'

    Yesterday's 'better revelation' becomes today's orthodoxy and tomorrow's doom

    Real threats unaddressed, the field left to extremes of obeisance and nihilism

    Our Good is in Equal Democracy, freedom of conscience our guide above all

  • Comment number 8.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 9.

    I miss The World Today so much. I have been listening to The World Today here in America for 12 years. The program inspired my passion for international affairs and global public health. It pains me to say that I turn off my radio now, rather than listen to Newsday. Please, World Service, bring back The World Today!

  • Comment number 10.

    That is dissappointing news .. Robin Lustig is a link with the past that will be hard to restore .. Good Luck Robin, and thank you for the many hours of your enjoyable coverage of World events ..

  • Comment number 11.

    Robin 'at large'?
    Stephanomic: "no comment"?
    Wingnut@174: "none bothered"
    Sensing trapped?

    'All can learn', some more: but, if experience counts, each but few chances to be 'really good at one thing'; and, not just 'from being human', there is some need for 'moving-on', bringing varied experience into each work-sphere

    To decide 'for value', we need freedom of conscience, secure equality overall

  • Comment number 12.

    Wistful retrospect

    How many times must Robin have wanted to say more, on what we all think, that 'kicking the can' not the answer, that our Social Contract bears recasting?

    Obliged instead to present 'puffs of outrage', into which 'smuggled' self-interested digs at others, 'teachers' or 'bankers', 'unions' or 'politicians', 'work-shy' or 'pensioners'

    Conscience un-free


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