Today programme

Today programme

"Today", sometimes referred to as the "Today programme" to avoid ambiguity, is BBC Radio 4's long-running early morning news and current affairs programme, which is now broadcast from 6am to 9am from Monday to Friday and from 7am to 9am on Saturdays. It is also the most popular programme on Radio 4 and one of the BBC's most popular programmes across its radio networks. [ [ "BBC News (Online)", Thursday, 2 February 2006] ] It consists of regular news bulletins, serious but often confrontational political interviews and in-depth reports. It is generally considered to be the most influential news programme in Britain. [ [ Robin Aitken ] , Evening Standard, 3 May 2007] [ [ Today programme voted by MPs as most influential programme in setting the political agenda] ]


"Today" was launched on the BBC's Home Service on 28 October 1957 as a programme of 'topical talks' to give listeners a morning alternative to light music. It was initially broadcast as two 20-minute editions slotted in around the existing news bulletins and religious items. In 1963 it became part of the BBC's Current Affairs department, and it started to become more news-oriented. The two editions also became longer, and by the end of the 1960s it had become a single two-hour long programme that enveloped the news bulletins and the religious talk that had become "Thought for the Day". It was cut back to two parts in 1976-1978, but was swiftly returned to its former position.

Jack de Manio [ [ Jack de Manio] ] became its principal presenter in 1958. He became notorious for on-air gaffes. In 1970 the programme format was changed so that there were two presenters each day. De Manio left in 1971, and in the late seventies the team of John Timpson and Brian Redhead became established.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, under Editors Ken Goudie and Julian Holland, "Today" made moves to broaden its appeal away from broadcasting a lot of national politics with London-centric bias. Presentation was split between London, usually by John Timpson, and from Manchester, usually by Brian Redhead. The objective was to make it more of a balanced, national programme. The on-air humour of the two presenters and the split of locations made the programme very popular and influential. Brian Redhead was quoted, "If you want to drop a word in the ear of the nation, then this is the programme in which to do it." [ [ Today Programme] ]

This pairing lasted until Timpson's retirement in 1986, when John Humphrys and Sue MacGregor joined the rotating list of presenters (there had been others alongside Redhead and Timpson, including Libby Purves in the late 1970s). After Redhead's untimely death on 23 January 1994, James Naughtie became a member of the team. Peter Hobday presented the programme regularly until 1996; Sarah Montague replaced MacGregor in 2002. Edward Stourton is also a regular presenter; as was Carolyn Quinn until 2008. Other more occasional presenters include the BBC's Stephen Sackur, Tim Franks, [ [ Tim Franks] ] and Justin Webb. Most recently Evan Davis has joined the roster of presenters..

The show reached a peak in terms of influence in the 1980s, when Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was a noted listener. Ministers thus became keen to go on the programme and be heard by their leader, but the tough, confrontational interviewing style they encountered led to accusations that the BBC was biased. Criticism was particularly directed against Redhead, who was widely seen as being on the left. The style of the male interviewers was analysed and contrasted with that of MacGregor, who was alleged to be giving subjects an easier time. The 'Big 8.10' interview that follows the 8 o'clock news remains an important institution of British politics to this day.

Notable features

"Today" regularly holds an end-of-year poll. For many years this took the form of write-in votes for the Man and Woman of the Year. This was stopped after an episode of organised vote-rigging in 1990, but was soon revived as a telephone vote for a single Personality of the Year. A further episode of vote-rigging, in favour of Tony Blair in 1996, forced the programme-makers to consider more innovative polling questions. In 2004 listeners nominated candidates for a peerage, in 2005 the question was set of 'Who Runs Britain?' (though this, too, turned out to be rigged). Recent years have also included nominations for a 'Listener's Law' (which an MP agreed to sponsor as a parliamentary bill), and, in 2006, nominations were sought for the law that listeners would most like to see repealed.

In "Thought for the Day", featured since 1970, a speaker reflects on topical issues from a theological viewpoint; the editorial responsibility lying with BBC's Religion and Ethics Department. [ [ BBC Religion and Ethics] ] Notable contributors to the slot include Rabbi Lionel Blue and Richard Harries, the former Bishop of Oxford. Over the years the slot has featured an increasing number of speakers from religions other than Christianity, though Christian speakers remain in a substantial majority. In August 2002 University of Oxford professor Richard Dawkins gave a non-religious humanist thought for the day, however this did not replace the regular thought and was broadcast an hour later as an alternative thought.

In 1983 the long running ‘’Prayer for the Day’’, which had always gone on air at 6.50am, was moved to 6.25am and replaced by a ‘’Business News’’ slot.

The programme has a regular slot for sports news and items between 26 and 30 minutes past each hour, presented by Steve May or Garry Richardson. [ [ Garry Richardson] ] It is an established in-joke that that the presenters will pour scorn on the reliability of the programme's racing tipster. If Parliament was in session the previous day there will be a summary (Yesterday in Parliament [ [ Yesterday in Parliament] ] ) presented by two from Robert Orchard, David Wilby, [ [ David Wilby] ] Rachel Hooper and Susan Hulme. [ [ Susan Hulme] ]

Journalist and historian Peter Hennessy has made an assertion, in one of his books, [Peter Hennessy. "The Secret State: Whitehall and the Cold War, 1945-1970". Allen Lane, The Penguin Press. 256 pages. ISBN 0-713-99626-9] that a test that the commander of a British nuclear-missile submarine must use to determine whether the UK has been the target of a nuclear attack (in which case he has sealed orders which may authorise him to fire his nuclear missiles in retaliation), is to listen for the presence of "Today" on Radio 4's frequencies. If a certain number of days pass without the programme being broadcast, that is to be taken as evidence that the orders must be executed. The true conditions are of course secret, and Hennessy has never revealed his sources for this story, leading Paul Donovan, [ [ Paul Donovan] ] author of a book [Paul Donovan: "All Our Todays: Forty Years of Radio 4's "Today" Programme".London, Jonathan Cape, 1997. ISBN 0-224-04358-7 (revised paperback edition is ISBN 0-09-928037-X)] about "Today", to express some scepticism about it. However, the longwave signal of Radio 4 is capable of penetrating to depths where submarines normally operate, although it does not have the range required to be heard at this depth far from the UK's coastal waters.

Message boards

In 2001 the "Today" Programme created a system of message boards [ [ Today Programme Message Board] ] allowing the users of its web site to challenge thinking on current affairs with all those contributing. Available statistics indicate the amassing, over five years, of up to 18,000 separate discussions - topic threads - sometimes with as many as 3,000 contributions per thread. However, on 16 Nov 2006 the programme changed its board policy so that only the producers of "Today" could start a thread, but all contributors could still join in with them. This action appeared to have been unattractive [ [ BBC in Radio 4 messageboard punch-up] ] to past contributors and, it seems, many stopped dealing with "Today" in favour of other outlets. [ [ James St George] ] After the changes there were fewer contributions, but, on occasion, contributions made by the public were featured on-air in the "Today" programme. Message boards dedicated to the "Today" Programme were discontinued around mid-2008 and listeners were invited to use the general BBC 'Have Your Say' board. [ Have Your Say] ] Complaints continue.

Guest editors

Beginning in 2003, for over one week at the end of December, guest editors have been invited to commission items for one edition of the programme. These usually reflect their social or cultural interests and at the end of each edition the guest editor is interviewed by a member of the regular presenting team about the experience. Guest editors participating in the inaugural year of this feature were Monica Ali, Thom Yorke, Stephen Hawking, and Norman Tebbit, who is a frequent critic of the programme. Since its inception, notable guest editors have included: David Blunkett, who used the programme as an opportunity to 'turn the tables' on John Humphrys in 2005; Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, whose appearance on 29 December 2006 encompassed discussions of his growing concerns about the 'justification' for the invasion of Iraq, Britain's role in the affair, and the consequences for British armed forces; and Peter Hennessy, who, on 28 December 2007, led a visit to HMS Vigilant (a British Trident submarine) alongside its base at Faslane. The likes of Queen Noor of Jordan (2005), Bono (2004) and Sarah, Duchess of York (2004) have also pitched in for this one-day editorial stint to promote their causes and interests.


"Today" found itself in the midst of controversy again in 2002, when its editor Rod Liddle wrote a column in "The Guardian" that was extremely critical of the Countryside Alliance and which raised questions about his own impartiality. In the article, he wrote that catching "a glimpse of the forces supporting the Countryside Alliance: the public schools that laid on coaches; the fusty, belch-filled dining rooms of the London clubs that opened their doors, for the first time, to the protesters; the Prince of Wales and, of course, Camilla ... and suddenly, rather gloriously, it might be that you remember [why you voted Labour] once again." He eventually resigned from his post on "Today".

In the summer of 2003, "Today" once again found itself at the centre of allegations of political bias, this time against a Labour government. The controversy arose after "Today" broadcast a report by its correspondent Andrew Gilligan. The report alleged that a dossier the British Government had produced to convince the British public of the need to invade Iraq was deliberately exaggerated, and that the government had known this prior to publishing it. In his live 2-way (interview with presenter John Humphrys), just after 6.07 a.m., Gilligan asserted that the Government "probably knew" that one of the main claims in its dossier "was wrong". Gilligan's anonymous source for the claim was Dr David Kelly, a key adviser on biological weapons who had worked in Iraq - though it was never established whether Dr Kelly had actually used the words Gilligan attributed to him. In the furore that followed Gilligan's report, David Kelly's name became public and he was forced to appear before the Foreign Affairs Select Committee. Shortly afterwards he was found dead having presumably committed suicide. In the ensuing public inquiry (the Hutton Inquiry), that reported in January 2004, the BBC was heavily criticised. This led to the resignation of the BBC's Chairman Gavyn Davies and Director-General (equivalent to Chief Executive), Greg Dyke; Andrew Gilligan also resigned. Editor, Kevin Marsh, was moved to training.


* Alan Skempton (1957 - 1958) [ "Today Programme" Key Facts page] ]
* Jack de Manio (1958 - 1971)
* Robert Hudson (1964 - 1968)
* John Timpson (1970 - 1986)
* Robert Robinson (1971 - 1974)
* Barry Norman (1974 - ?)
* Desmond Lynam (1974 - 1976)
* Brian Redhead (1975 - 1993)
* Nigel Rees (1976 - 1978)
* Libby Purves (1978 - 1981)
* Jenni Murray (1982 - 1986)
* Sue MacGregor (1984 - 2002)
* Peter Hobday (1984 - 1996)
* John Humphrys (1987 - )
* Anna Ford (1986? - 1997?)
* James Naughtie (1994 - )
* Edward Stourton (1999 - )
* Sarah Montague (2002 - )
* Carolyn Quinn (2004 - 2008 [ [ Broadcasting - News - Evan Davis replaces Quinn on 'Today' - Digital Spy ] ] )
* Evan Davis ( 2007 [ [ Broadcasting - News - Evan Davis replaces Quinn on 'Today' - Digital Spy ] ] - )


* Isa Benzie (Senior Producer)(1957)
* Elizabeth Rowley (Producer in Charge)(1957)
* Janet Quigley (Chief Assistant, Talks)(1957)
* Stephen Bonarjee (1960s) [ [ Stephen Bonarjee] ]
* Peter Redhouse (1960s?) [further information, at the time of this contribution, appears to be unavailable for this entry and the next four in this list]
* Alistair Osborne (1960s/1970s?)
* Mike Chaney (1976 - 1978)
* Ken Goudie(1978 - 1981)
* Julian Holland(1981 - 1986)
* Jenny Abramsky (1986 - 1987)
* Phil Harding (1987 - 1993)
* Roger Mosey (1993 - 1997)
* Jon Barton (1997 - 1998) [ [ Jon Barton] ]
* Rod Liddle (1998 - 2002)
* Kevin Marsh (2002 - 2006)
* Ceri Thomas (2006 - ) [ [ Ceri Thomas] ]

ee also

* Greatest Painting in Britain Vote, a "Today" listener poll in 2005.
* PM, Radio 4's early evening stablemate to the "Today Programme".
* The World At One, Radio 4's afternoon stablemate to the "Today Programme".
* The World Tonight, Radio 4's late evening stablemate to the "Today Programme".


External links

* [ Official website]
* [ "All Our Todays: Forty Years of Radio 4's "Today" Programme". Book review]
* [ "Brian Redhead" : obituary]
* [ "The Secret State: Whitehall and the Cold War, 1945-1970". Book review]
* [ "Thought for the Day" official site]
*cite news | last = Luckhurst | first = Tim | title = "Today... 50 today!" | publisher = The Independent | date = 2007-10-27 |url=

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