I first knew Jeremy Vine as a very young, charming, earnest and totally driven political correspondent for the BBC in the 1980s. So when I started reading It’s All News to Me, I was dreading a rather worthy read. I was delightfully disappointed. This is a wonderful bitchfest of not quite malicious gossip and the power struggles at the BBC. In politics it is dog eat dog. At the beeb it is the other way round. Any aspiring broadcaster should use this book as a survival manual.
There are some wonderful quotes. From former political editor Robin Oakley:
‘The people at the top of the BBC don’t have very much power, so when they act, it tends to be very violent.’
The legendary John Sergeant has some crackers. When Vine was very pleased to be one of the youngest stand-ins on the Today programme he warned the young pup:
‘You don’t want to be the youngest, Jeremy. You want to be the oldest.’
And when the seriously delightful Oakley froze on screen Sergeant:
‘Wearing an expression that he was suffering terrible pain over the incident himself Sergeant told Oakely, “Don’t worry Robin. We’ve nearly all done that.”
And be wary of the words of Sergeantian praise:
‘Jeremy’s scripts are so good , sometimes you wonder if the story even matters…….his sense of judgement will come.’
When the young Vine was dispatched to cover an Ashdown temper tantrum, Sergeant rang the other correspondents:
‘You need to know, there’s been a row. Paddy’s gone into full SAS mode. I’m afraid it’s Jeremy again.’
And when there was a piece in the Times suggesting that Vine or John Sopel could be the next political editor, Sergeant opined:
‘The person I feel most sorry for is Huw (Edwards). Not even mentioned.’
Vine also tells about a mention that he had on the Russell Brand show:
‘Brand: I’ll tell you who does listen to this show, Jeremy Vine. Jeremy Vine and his Missus. (starts singing) Jeremy Vine and his wife, lying in bed, stiff and erect and all over each other. Slithering around in a sexual…. Side kick: Play a song. Brand: Alright, we’re gonna play a song called safety dance. Men without hats, which I dedicate to Jeremy Vine who I believe is having unprotected sex with his wife right now. Jeremy Vine, Men Without Hats, we are playing this for you.’
The machinations at Westminster, in particular, are straight out of In the Thick of It. Vine once interviewed John Prescott after Tony Blair’s Clause 4 speech:
He was accompanied by Alastair Campbell……Prescott was stooping to see his reflection in the lens of the Camera, running his hand across his fringe. “Actually, I got Tony to sign a copy of it ….so I had a record of the moment he gave my party a stuffing”. Campbell took a step forward. “That’s not for you.”
On camera Prescott then spent five minutes praising the Blair speech. But by pure chance, the cameraman had the real story on tape. Vine wanted to use it, but senior management, under pressure, refused. So he popped back to the office to retrieve the tape:
‘But where the tape had sat on a top shelf, my hand now probed a gap. It had disappeared.’
There is a wonderfully revealing chapter called Can I Be Friends With Peter Mandelson? On the day the press were howling for the resignation of Harriet Harman, Vine bumped into the great man:
‘I smiled a greeting. Set like death, Mandelson’s face loomed out of the Shadows. He said very threateningly, “I know what you want and you’re not getting it”. “Peter, what do you think I want?” “You want Harriet to resign, and she’s not going to”. “Actually”, I said, “the BBC doesn’t have a view on Harriet Harman’s future” Eyes drilling into my sockets, he said very softly, ” I don’t mean the BBC Jeremy, I mean you… we have read your scripts”
Another example of the Prince of Darkness on manoeuvres reads like pure panto:
“Let me make it clear to you, Jeremy. I do not spin. I do not operate puppet strings”, he was rising to his theme. “I am not a dark lord of manipulation or whatever it is that you people are saying this week. I am not working behind the scenes, I am not Machiavellian, I am not plotting or planning and I am definitely NOT SPINNING”. His speech was interrupted by his mobile phone. “Excuse me”. He turned away to answer it, listen for a moment and then hissed violently: “This. Must. Be. Defused.”
You couldn’t make it up.
This is a wonderfully readable book. The anecdotes are cracking, the gossip wicked and the insights on both life in Westminster and at the BBC, valuable. Let me finish with some fine words of wisdom from the legendary John Sergeant:
“The only thing They will never forgive is misplaced humour”.
Jeremy Vine’s book is spiced with humour. I just hope for his sake that it is not misplaced.
More Spectator for less. Subscribe and receive 12 issues delivered for just £12, with full web and app access. Join us.