Chris Mason's first Any Questions on Radio 4 (clips) - 2019

Oct 18, 07:59 PM
“Well – hello”, said Chris Mason. The two words meant more on-air than they can ever do on paper, as he became the fifth presenter to host the famous Any Questions programme in its 71 years on the BBC.

Following a touch of nostalgia, as befits the radio man he is, Chris jumped straight in to cue a question on May’s deal vs Johnson’s deal – on this, the eve of a critical Commons vote.

Chris brought a slightly more conversational approach than his truly superb predecessor – and an accent which is further evidence that RP is no longer the same as BBC English. He sounded at home from the first moments – and no-one could be more across the likely topics of the day than Chris, thanks to his day job.

The programme exhibited a more authentic air, moving through a presenter generation – or two.  There was an honesty from him which just maybe was reciprocated by his guests. Although the familiar Radio 4 echoey applause sounded as it always has, the discussion seemed more intimate.  More normal.

Chris was typically not afraid to give something of himself, and, indeed, eke every inch of drama out of the unique programme experience. Following a mix of applause, oohs and groans, he observed with trademark smile in his voice: “That was the full kaleidoscope of sounds. That was quite something. I’m no musician but it was the whole range of musical notes”.

As Brexitcast and his other work has proven, Chris has escaped the unwarranted criticism levelled at too many journalists as they try to make matters Brexit sound vaguely penetrable and interesting. Possibly because, a) he’s good; b) he has huge personal equity; and c) he just sounds likeable.  But, as on this programme, never soft when an answer lingers or deviates, or lightweight.

Most importantly, Chris’s love of radio means that this is a programme designed for listeners - made in a hall. Not a performance in a hall than happens to be broadcast. With his commentary, asides, and re-setting, he looks the listener in the eyes.

It’ll be fascinating hearing Chris deal with the hecklers or the out-of-order panellist. I know he’ll do it well. And, in time, I suspect the BBC will use Chris’s many talents to take every advantage of digital to allow this programme to flourish in new places.

Unless he gets lured to something else, I suspect the programme’s youngest ever presenter will be there for the long term. After all, the average tenure is about 17 years – with Jonathan Dimbleby serving under the reigns of six prime ministers.