Twenty years ago today, one of the best-known presenters of BBC Radio 4's Today programme died of complications following a burst appendix. I must confess that I never actually heard Brian Redhead broadcast, but I have been an occasional listener of the Today programme for many years since (on those rare occasions when I actually get up that early) and the loss of any of their presenters leaves a mark on Britain simply because of what the Today programme does for UK politics: set the agenda at the beginning of each day. Certainly, there are other news programmes that influence events, but none that are playing just when everyone's getting up, or in their cars, or chewing doggedly at the breakfast toast while they reassemble their synapses for the day's work. It starts at 6am every morning, and runs on until 9am. Very few people listen to it all the way through; most only grab half an hour or an hour. But that's all it takes to get up to speed. Most of the people who do listen through all the way are, I suspect, lawyers for the main political parties, desperate for any mistake they can use to their advantage against either the other parties or the BBC itself. It's a tricky job, to be at the heart of the nation's political life, and Today has occasionally slipped up over the years. Whenever the Today programme becomes news itself, the Director General of the BBC shudders in fear at what the journalists have gotten up to this time, and whether or not it's going to cost them their job.
(my favourite moment, though, was on the day of the 2005 general election, when news media are forbidden from allowing any party political comment from anyone. This means they can't report much more than the fact that there's an election on, and the news tends to be very dull for much of the day. Today gave up trying to take this seriously and played a Monty Python sketch instead)
Obituary for Brian Redhead. And here's a clip in which he beats Nigel Lawson into the ground with nothing more than a cheerful verbal slap: