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Sunday
Feb052017

Gary Lineker, political protester – what would Des Lynam think?

I was driving home from Derbyshire last week and listening to BBC Radio 4 Extra.

The first programme that came on was Touchline Tales featuring two old friends – broadcaster Des Lynam and writer Christopher Matthew.

Nothing much happened. They pottered around sharing anecdotes and stories about sport. Lynam, one of Britain's finest broadcasters, was typically humorous and laconic.

It's a huge shame that his mainstream career effectively ended a decade too soon after he took the disastrous decision to leave the BBC and join ITV to present live Champions League football.

As many people observed at the time, ITV didn't suit Lynam's relaxed style because as soon as he opened his mouth he was forced to go to yet another ad break.

The person who stepped into his shoes at the BBC was Gary Lineker. For an ex-footballer with no experience of journalism and very little experience of broadcasting, Lineker has made a pretty good job of it.

He's clearly worked very hard to get where he is but that's part of the problem. With Lynam almost every link or joke was seamless. Can you say that of Lineker, many of whose jokes feel a bit forced?

Even his body language – leaning forward, as if a little anxious – feels more urgent and therefore less comfortable than Lynam's more relaxed posture although, to be fair, the latter was usually sitting behind a desk.

But that's not why Lineker is stretching my patience. The truth is I can no longer watch Match of the Day without being reminded of his political views.

Everyone is entitled to their opinion but by choosing to work for the BBC Lineker is in a privileged position. Most BBC presenters understand this (even those that work on Newsnight!).

Unlike Piers Morgan, who was almost certainly hired by ITV precisely because of his polarising views and large Twitter following, Lineker's foghorn opposition to Brexit and Trump are in my view a serious distraction.

I don't want to know what the presenter of Match of the Day thinks about the leading political issues of the day. When I think of all the presenters of the past I have no idea who David Coleman or Jimmy Hill voted for or what their position was on the miners' strike, Nixon or the EEC.

Likewise, throughout his long and successful broadcasting career, I had no idea what Des Lynam's political views were. Only in semi-retirement (2013), long after he was a national figure hosting a much loved TV institution, did he come out and endorse Ukip.

Lynam and David Coleman, to name two, will be remembered as broadcasting legends. Lineker will never be in their league but someone should point out that joining political marches (including last week's protest against Donald Trump's state visit) is not merely self-indulgent, it doesn't reflect well on the publicly-funded broadcaster that employs him.

Readers may recall that Rod Liddle was sacked as editor of the Today programme for writing an article in the Guardian attacking the Countryside Alliance and people who hunt. Clearly there was one rule for Liddle (in 2002) and another for Lineker in 2017.

The Match of the Day presenter has of course argued that he's not a member of staff, he's freelance. That however is unlikely to be the perception most people have, even the very small number who see him presenting Champions League football on BT Sport.

Consequently he has a responsibility, like all BBC employees (especially those in the public eye), not to draw attention to his political beliefs.

Former Blue Peter presenter and Five Live broadcaster Richard Bacon seems to share Lineker's views on Trump and Brexit. He too is freelance but unlike Lineker his BBC work is far more sporadic these days. He's not on national television every week. It's an important difference.

The fact is, as long as Lineker enjoys a big fat income for presenting a long-running, high profile television programme for a publicly-funded broadcaster, he should abide by the same guidelines as editors, producers and journalists.

Technically it might not be in his contract but Lineker's reinvention as a political protester suggests a poor understanding of the need for impartiality at all levels of the BBC.

Whether it's driven by naivety or arrogance I can't say. Whatever the answer, someone at the BBC should have a little word in those jug-like ears.

PS. I think I've discovered the person responsible for Lineker's opinionated persona – it's Des Lynam!

Lynam is a fan of Lineker's broadcasting abilities. He's said and written as much many times. In May 2010 however he had some advice for his MOTD successor that may have been misinterpreted.

Writing in the Telegraph, Lynam urged:

Go on, Gary, let’s hear more of your views. It will make the next 10 years more interesting not only for the fans but for you as well.

Lineker has clearly taken that suggestion to heart – but not in a good way. To paraphrase Michael Caine in The Italian Job:

"You were only supposed to talk about the bloody football!"

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Reader Comments (1)

I stopped listening to Steve Wright in the afternoon in the early 90s when denormalisation started. I used to listen every day until one day he described the staff smoking outside the BBC as "saddos." It might have been his personal opinion but it was insulting and derogatory and something he should have kept to himself if he didn't want to offend a significant minority of his listeners.

This smoker hasn't listened to him since and I despair that when I want to listen to Radio 2 at peak time in the afternoon, Wright and the sycophantic bunch of cronies with him are on. I cannot even bear the sound of his voice anymore.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017 at 12:19 | Unregistered CommenterPat Nurse

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