Mark Lawson to leave BBC's Front Row

Mark Lawson Mark Lawson has been presenting Front Row for 16 years

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BBC arts presenter Mark Lawson is to leave Radio 4's Front Row after 16 years, it has been announced.

The 51-year-old, who has grilled the likes of Dame Helen Mirren, Robert De Niro and Woody Allen, has been its main presenter since it began in 1998.

"For personal reasons I shall be taking a break from live daily radio journalism," he said in a statement.

The broadcaster's departure follows allegations of bullying among several staff in the BBC Radio Arts Unit.

In a statement, Lawson said the decision to step down was a joint agreement with the BBC.

"It has been an extraordinary experience and privilege to work on the programme for 16 years and I very much hope to be able to return to work on Radio 4 in the future," he added.

Steve Coogan with Mark Lawson Lawson's guests have included comedian and screenwriter Steve Coogan

The BBC said: "We can confirm that Mark Lawson is leaving Front Row. He has been away from the programme for a month on medical advice.

"Front Row will continue to be presented by John Wilson and Kirsty Lang, alongside other guest presenters such as Tom Sutcliffe."

A new series of the presenter's BBC Four interview show, Mark Lawson Talks To..., is due to start next week.

'Rogue vowels'

Born in Hendon, north London, Lawson was raised in Yorkshire where his father was a marketing director for British Telecom. The job required him to buy every daily newspaper so that he could keep abreast of developments in the telecommunications industry.

"From the age of about eight I was reading eight papers a day, because my dad... would bring them all home," Lawson told The Yorker last year. "I always wanted to be a journalist for that reason."

He studied English at University College London, beginning his career as a TV critic for Catholic newspaper The Universe in 1984.

He soon moved to the Sunday Times, and then the Independent, before making a series of one-off TV documentaries on topics ranging from Coronation Street to the Pope.

Initially self-conscious because of his regional accent and "rogue vowels", he soon became known for a tenacious, probing interview style.

He was hired by BBC Radio 4 when its arts programme rebranded from Kaleidoscope to Front Row in 1998. Since then he has, by his own estimate, conducted more than 3,000 interviews for the show.

Miram Margolyes with Mark Lawson Miriam Margolyes was a guest on the presenter's BBC Four show last year

The programme's unstuffy, chatty format quickly won fans, with the Daily Telegraph writing: "Mark Lawson et al somehow manage to discuss the arts without being smug and pretentious. A real achievement."

During his tenure the broadcaster also scripted several plays for Radio 4. He has written four more works of fiction and currently pens a regular column for The Guardian.

Speaking about his career last year, Lawson admitted: "Almost all interviews fail or disappoint in some way."

But, he added: "I also think that there is a responsibility to historians and students in the future to build up an archive of the most interesting people of our time."

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