BBC Today presenter Nick Robinson loses his ‘impartial’ way amongst my non-existent tattoos and “broad” accent.


The ‘impartial’ Nick Robinson


In the late 1980s, during my time as a BBC Production Trainee in Manchester, I worked with the well-known BBC journalist Nick Robinson.  He is now a presenter on the ‘Today’ radio programme.  Nick and I worked together in as much that we worked for the same TV programme Brass Tacks, attended production meetings together and shared the same set of offices.

In a recent inaugural lecture in memory of my late and much lamented former Brass Tacks producer, Steve Hewlett, Nick Robinson describes me in the following way:

“Our team included a former merchant seaman with a broad Scouse accent and arms covered in tattoos. I have worked with few like him in TV since.”

The full text of Nick Robinson’s lecture can be read here:

Anyone who has ever taken the slightest genuine interest in me discovers immediately that I am from Manchester. Not Liverpool (where Scousers and the ‘Scouse’ accent comes from). In fact, I was born in Salford, which Manchester is near, as my dear, fellow Salfordian Tony Wilson always so beautifully put it. Moreover, anyone who knows about the North West of England, as Nick Robinson claims to do in his lecture, would never commit the Cardinal Sin of confusing a Manc such as me with a Scouser. The reverse is of course also the case.

Now we come to my arms.

Thankfully, I have the same arms now  as I did in the late 1980s when I was at BBC Manchester. I have one tattoo on my arms and one tattoo only. This tattoo is located on my upper right arm, but I have never been in the habit of flaunting it as is the mode these days. In other words, my arms are not and never have been “covered in tattoos”.

Finally, and most important to me, I have a name. Nick Robinson is not interested in my name, so did not do the usual journalist routine of ringing or mailing a mutual colleague to jog his memory as to my identity before writing his nonsense about me. Nor does he seem to remember that the subject of his lecture, Steve Hewlett, and your author made a hard hitting film for Brass Tacks about injuries to young Irishmen on building sites in London.

Where did Nick Robinson get this caricature image of me, which has clearly remained in his mind for several decades? It is of course a posh boy’s stereotype of a working class man who managed to make it through the centuries’ thick cultural wall that separates ‘ordinary’ people from media elite like him. If Nick Robinson had bothered to ask about me rather than regaling his audience with a tale about a  ‘freak’ (my term and emphasis) the likes of which, as he says himself, he has rarely seen before or since, he would have found out that in my Brass Tacks days I was just as well known as the expert linguist I am as for my previous life in the Danish merchant navy, and also that I won the European Journalist of the Year award in 2007.

For Nick Robinson I was just a chance to conjure a sloppy and inaccurate picture in order, ironically and tellingly, to highlight the fact that there are just not enough of us rough types around in the media; though he does caution against the idea of employment quotas for our type.

The overall subjects of Nick Robinson’s lecture were impartiality and how the Fourth Estate can make the media more diverse and relevant to the masses in this age of media fragmentation.

Nick Robinson is clearly blind to where the real problem lies; blind also, in this instance at least, to the need for the kind of care and accuracy he urges in his Steve Hewlett lecture.



@Paul Larkin – Monday 2 October 2017, Donegal, Ireland


Update to the above article.

Nick Robinson has been gracious enough to apologise to me via twitter for mistakes he ascribes to a hazy memory.:

“Paul, My apologies for the hazy memory & for failing to find you. I did ask around former colleagues but clearly should have tried harder”

It’s never easy to apologise and admit mistakes, so we must applaud Nick for that and I have expressed my gratitude to him. The problems regarding class bias in the media however will, I fear, remain with us until the social profile type of journalists is changed way beyond its present recognition.