Rob Burley was wrong: Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg

September 6, 2022
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A composited image of Joe Lycett, on the set of Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg, with a yellow shirt and yellow painted nails, mid speaking, with Laura Kuenssberg inserted on top, with a freeze frame that makes her look disdainful, with her eyes aimed towards a superimposed tweet by Rob Burley, which reads "Memo: don't put comedians on Question Time or any other serious political show. It's not the time for that nonsense anymore."

The new flagship Sunday political programme for the BBC launched on Sunday 4th September. Laura Kuenssberg is the host of the aptly titled Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg.

The timing for the first show was opportune, with the final two candidates for the leadership of the Conservative Party, and therefore Prime Minister, featured prominently.

The panel at the curved Studio B desk were Labour MP Emily Thornberry, former staffer from Number 10 Cleo Watson, and comedian Joe Lycett.

His appearance, and reaction to Liz Truss’s plan for government, garnered a lot of attention on Twitter, not least from the former head of BBC political programmes, Rob Burley.

Rob Burley’s tweet mentioning that “serious political show[s]” shouldn’t feature comedians.

People were quick to come to defence of Joe Lycett, citing his work around consumer rights on his Channel 4 show, presenting serious commentary on the wrongs committed against consumers by businesses within a comedic context.

Richard Osman defends Joe Lycett’s appearance

So, who is right in this argument? Was the BBC right to include a comedian on the panel of a serious political discussion programme?

Whilst it’s difficult to answer the questions in an absolute manner, there’s a lot of evidence to suggest that Joe Lycett’s appearance was actually nothing out of the ordinary.

The evidence

Firstly, it’s important to understand that Rob Burley is currently the Executive Editor of Andrew Marr’s new radio show with LBC, and previously worked at the BBC as the head of their political programmes. Prior to that, he was the editor of The Andrew Marr Show.

This, of course, suggests an ulterior motive towards his criticism of the work of his successors, but also allows anyone to look back, and see what he actually did when he was in the position to make these sorts of choices.

This Week, the long-running late-night political discussion programme that was shown after Question Time for sixteen years, was within his purview between 2018 and the programme’s end in 2019.

This Week was built on long-running gags, and comedic references to the failures of various MPs and ex-MPs that graced its sofa. Political reporters and editors from all sorts of publications would feature in cheap comedy skits that interspersed whatever point they were making.

The programme would often end with some sort of comedy jape, such as a reference to John Bercow’s dislike of being called “Big John”, or a memorable moment where Andrew Neil and all the studio guests – barring Primal Scream’s Bobby Gillespie, who looked on in disdain – were gyrating in an affront to dad dancing.

Comedian guests on the show, making political comment, included people like Jan Ravens, Andi Osho, Bridget Christie, Phill Jupitus, Andy Parsons, and Rob Beckett, to name a few.

Rob Burley defends this in a rather weak manner, backtracking by saying that comedians worked on This Week because of the setting and the nature of the conversation – an argument that holds no water when the new Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg programme is just that: new.

Rob Burley’s backtracking tweet on featuring comedians on political programmes.

Indeed, he almost concedes that he has no real point, by saying the disruption being wanted by the BBC would be a bold move. Ultimately, Joe Lycett is hardly an unknown entity, having worked on the BBC and Channel 4 on numerous programmes, so it’s clear the BBC were aware of who they were booking.

It seems to effectively boil down to him not liking that the programme is different to how it was before, which is a bit trite to say the least.

But it’s not only This Week that featured comedic guests. Politics Live was the replacement for Daily Politics, launched under Rob Burley’s tenure at the BBC. It featured comedians on the panel such as Ayesha Hazarika, Marcus Brigstocke, Ahir Shar, and Luisa Omielan.

Of course, The Andrew Marr Show also featured comedians on the programme, such as Griff Rhys Jones, Steve Coogan, and even had a yearly slot for Rory Bremner to do impressions, rounding off the year in politics in a comedic fashion.

Which, of course, was a hangover from the Breakfast with Frost days – hosted by a comedian-turned-journalist.

What have they done?

The BBC have done nothing more than invite a comedian onto the panel of the launch edition of their new flagship political programme. Joe Lycett, known for his occasional japes and thumbing his nose at authority, as well as his consumer rights advocacy, has effectively shown his distaste for a particular political leader in a sarcastic manner.

Rob Burley doesn’t like it, but it meant the new programme has been discussed extensively on social media, and splashed across the newspapers, whereas his current venture with Andrew Marr appears to have made all the impact of a pebble thrown into the Atlantic Ocean.

The new show has indeed changed the format of the BBC flagship political programme, but it’s hardly a revolution. And the opinions of a man wishing for the attention he had to return aren’t exactly worth listening to.

Agree? Disagree? Please leave your comments below

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