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Monday, 22 November, 2004

A Nostalgic Look at Today

Members of the Today team took part in an hour long discussion about the programme as part of the BBC Radio and Music Festival.

22 Nov 2004 - The Event:
"An Hour of Yesterday from Today"

The Discussion Panel:

* Sue MacGregor - Chairwoman
(Today presenter 1984-2002)
* John Timpson
(Today presenterr 1970-1986)
* Phil Harding
(Today editor for five years in late 80s and early 90s)
* Garry Richardson
(Today sports presenter for over 20 years)
* Roger Hermiston
(Current Assistant Editor, he's been at Today since Nov 1991).

The Today programme was born in October 1957; just a few weeks after the launch of Sputnik marked the beginning of the space race. In the following decades Today became the UK's agenda-setting morning news programme of record - a unique treasure-trove of insight, news and analysis.

The idea for a morning news and current affairs show came from Robin Day, then working in the Talks Department, BBC Broadcasting House.

"I suggest a new daily morning programme, under such a title as Daily Morning review. This would be a fifteen minute topical talk's miscellany going on the air sometime between 8-9am. Morning Review would give intelligent, pithy comment, of the sort found on the feature page of newspapers and in the more serious diary column. There would be three or four short talks with the occasional interview. These would be conversationally linked without scripted presentation by a skilled broadcaster who would give the conversation form and personality without intruding his own opinions."

Among the early archive played was an interview conducted by Ludovic Kennedy with the-then Prime Minister Harold MacMillan, who talked about the duties of a premier and how he managed to relax by reading Jane Austen! The genesis of the Today "funny" item was discussed, with a clip of the talking parrot. Eileen Fowler and her early morning exercise classes were fondly remembered.

Archive was played of the big news events and Today's coverage of them, which included John Timpson in Brighton for the IRA bombing of the Grand Hotel (and the attempt to wipe out the cabinet). And John Humphrys' dramatic broadcasting from the Lockerbie on the morning after the plane exploded onto the village. The morning when Margaret Thatcher, then Prime-Minister, rang in to ask to be put on the programme (it was about a catastrophic earthquake in Armenia) was recalled vividly by Phil Harding (editor at the time). John Humphrys - who spoke to her live at 0645 - was convinced it was joke being played on him by the production staff!

Today has carved out its reputation, to some extent, on the strength of its big 0810 political interviews. Sue McGregor and John Timpson recalled some of the highlights, and the programme's relationship with Downing Street - sometimes thorny to say the least - was discussed and analysed. Redhead and Nigel Lawson, Humphrys and Heseltine, Hobday and Lamont - the most memorable clashes were heard.

Finally, some of the greatest howlers in the programme's history were played, to great amusement. Top of the list was probably the Mongolian throat singers, who made an unexpected - and entirely unscheduled - appearance at 0810 on the morning after President Clinton had ordered the bombing of Sudan. Garry Richardson remembered his interview with Alex Stewart - sadly for him NOT the English cricket captain but some Australian joker who had wandered on to the line.

The Today team is fifty-strong, with editor Kevin Marsh at the helm since 2002.

The presenter team is made up of John Humphrys (since 1987),James Naughtie (since 1994), Sarah Montague (since 1997),Edward Stourton (since 1999) and Carolyn Quinn (since January 2004).
Since it first aired more than 47 years ago, the shape, style and production of the programme has undergone radical change, but the focus on cutting-edge journalism has remained the same. For an insight into what it takes to get a show on the air, take a look at our website video 'A Day In The Life Of Today'.

The accompanying archive was selected and edited by Martha Finlay (Today producer).

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