Politics

Alison Rowat: Andrew Marr and his very Scottish farewell to the BBC

WHAT a swell, if slightly odd, leaving do that was. As everyone from the continuity announcer to the Cabinet Minister pointed out, this was indeed Andrew Marr’s final show, and many a guest wanted to send the Scottish broadcaster on his way with a fond farewell.

Yet at the same time, no one could ignore the chilliness of the times. Less than a week before Christmas, Omicron was on the rampage and the way was being prepared for a possible third lockdown. Not, then, a day for celebration, but for some Marr’s departure from the BBC was a TV moment that deserved to be marked.

Sajid Javid, England’s Health Secretary, was the Minister for the Sunday shows. It was going to be a tough enough gig after a week of Tory backbench rebellion and the loss of North Shropshire. Saturday evening brought further woes for the Government with the resignation of Lord Frost, previously the Prime Minister’s man on Brexit.

More important to viewers was what would happen over the days and weeks to come. Asked by Marr if more restrictions were likely, the best the Minister could say was that there were no guarantees in this pandemic.

Earlier, on Sky News’s Trevor Phillips on Sunday, Mr Javid said if there was further action required then parliament would have to be recalled. Given the notice many MPs require to travel, that suggested a decision was imminent.

READ MORE: Andrew Marr signs off from BBC politics show after two decades

The advice from the Minister was “be cautious”. He, for example, would test himself before visiting his elderly mother. After that, he told Marr, “I might, you know, just have not the usual amount of hugs I get from my mum.”

At the end of his interview the Minister, like other guests, paid tribute to the presenter. Marr looked bashful but at the same time quietly chuffed by the attention. “Luckily I’m from Dundee so I won’t get emotional,” he promised.

There was demob giddiness as he said cheerio to his Sunday routine for 16 years. One thing he won’t miss is having to think of something novel to say when handing over to the weather forecaster.

It would hardly be a leaving do in television if there was not a tape of Marr’s “best bits”. This is not to be confused with that other traditional parting gift, the blooper reel. That, alas, tends to be for the team’s eyes only.

Marr’s best bits film showed how much had changed over the 16 years. It opened in 2005 with interviews with Gordon Brown and Tony Blair. A relatively little known Boris Johnson was just another bod on the paper review.

The “VII”, Very Important Interview section, featured Obama, Putin, Netanyahu, Prince Harry, Macron, the Dalai Lama, Greta Thunberg.

We saw Marr the interrogator in action. Do you stay as PM if you lose the referendum, he asked David Cameron. “Yes,” was the bold reply. Only one of them was correct. Next for the Marr treatment was Michael Gove, asked if he wasn’t a “political serial killer” given his record of backing, then dumping, colleagues.

One of the distinguishing characteristics of Marr’s show has been its mix of politics and the arts, and what a starry bunch he had spoken to down the years, including Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hanks, Meryl Street, Yoko Ono, and Keith Richards.

The list could have gone on but the film changed tone, shifting to Covid. Marr himself had fallen ill, despite having two jabs. When he made this public it started a debate about the long-term effectiveness of vaccinations. Not for the first time, the Marr show had made headlines on the Sunday and beyond.

READ MORE: Anti-vax protest in takes place Glasgow

How much of a difference did Marr make on the coverage of Covid? Though the man himself would be reluctant to take special credit, his show often set the agenda for the political week to follow. His interviews with scientists cut through the jargon, clarifying complex ideas. Statistics were made to make sense. He stuck with the subject of Covid week after week, rightly recognising it to be one of the major stories of our times.

While he was at times the subject of complaints, with various parties accusing him of bias over the years, the majority of viewers felt as though he was on their side.

In the end, it was left to fellow Scot David Tennant to sum up, saying: “You are the epitome of everything that is good about this corporation.”

What it said about the BBC that he was leaving was a question for another day.

Marr signed off in the manner of his “great mentor”, Ron Burgundy: “You stay classy San Diego.”

We can only try.

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