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Sunday, March 24, 2013

Eddie Mair Skewers Boris

Most interviewers succumb to Boris Johnson's peculiarly bumbling charm and thus fail to really nail him on political or personal issues.  It remains something of a mystery as to how this most flawed of politicians remains such a public favourite, but this morning one interviewer did at least manage to treat Johnson as a politician and not a celebrity, and quietly stuck the knife in with nearly every question.

Somewhat ill advisedly, one suspects, Boris has agreed to be interviewed for a documentary about himself, "The Irresistible Rise of Boris Johnson", to be shown on BBC2 tomorrow evening.  The Marr Show's presenter for the day, Eddie Mair, was thus on interviewing duties with Boris this morning.  Mair is already one of the BBC's most highly regarded interviewers by those who appreciate well informed and forensic interviews.  His on-screen honesty was a gem when he fronted 'Newsnight' at the time that programme was under the microscope for its Jimmy Savile and Lord McAlpine failings.  Now, he was ready with his unshowy, gleaming interrogator's knife, for the most obfuscating man in British politics.

Mair used the upcoming documentary to ask Johnson about his personal failings, bringing them one by one to a clearly discomfited mayor.  Did Johnson fake a quote when a journalist at the Times?  Did he lie about his adultery to party leader Michael Howard?  Did he really agree to collude with his friend Darius Guppy in the planned beating up of a fellow journalist?  Mair just kept putting these to Johnson, and failed to adopt the chummy persona that so many interviewers do when confronted with this man.  On twitter, the Mair strategy was a hit.  "Murder on television", "car-crash TV", "the best interviewer the BBC has" - plenty of positive coverage for Mair's businesslike approach.   Guido Fawkes, of the high-rated political website, even tweeted that the most worthy successor to Andrew Marr would only require a one letter change in the opening credits should he take over!

Boris Johnson's leadership ambitions - and Mair didn't get him to admit he wanted to be Prime Minister in his one interview fail - are still a long way off.  He is not even an MP, and he was never as successful in parliament as he is as a one man show now.  But the more he is talked up as a future leader, the more, eventually, his distinctly erratic career will be subject to the sort of questions Mair raised this morning, and the documentary tomorrow will presumably feature.  Michael Cockerell is behind the documentary, and he normally comes up with first class political television.  Should be as gripping as a Sorkin drama, and a lot less optimistic.

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