BBC Radio 4 was responsible for a series of uncharacteristic gaffes yesterday when it followed up James Naughtie’s mispronunciation of ‘Jeremy Hunt’ by later interviewing a man posing as a Liberal Democrat MP.
The impostor is believed to have inherited a mobile phone number that previously belonged to Liberal Democrat Mike Crockart.
And when journalists called asking how the MP intended to use his ballot in the crunch tuition fee vote, he seized his opportunity to make some bizarre mischief.
The Evening Standard quoted the ministerial aide yesterday as insisting he was ready to quit over the issue: “I will be voting against 100 per cent. I’m not going to be pushed out. Resigning probably will be the only option,” the man said.
The remarks were quickly followed up by the BBC’s World at One, who apparently had the same outdated number for Crockart.
The impersonator told the programme he was “prepared” to quit, before the line abruptly went dead.
The Press Association then reported that a Lib Dem press officer is said to have been on the phone to Crockart asking about the Standard interview at the same time as the live BBC interview was taking place.
The Edinburgh West MP’s colleagues also quickly pointed out that the voice on the radio was not his.
A BBC spokeswoman said: “The World At One today broadcast an interview about tuition fees with a person wrongly believed to be Liberal Democrat MP Michael Crockart, a junior member of the Government.
“The error came about after a call to an incorrect number listed in the BBC’s directory of MPs’ contact details.
“The usual pre-broadcast questions were asked of the person concerned, who maintained throughout that he was Mr Crockart and appeared credible.
“Once the mistake was realised, steps were taken immediately to rectify the error and to ensure it was not repeated.
“A personal apology has been issued to Mr Crockart and a correction will be made on today’s PM programme. We also apologise to our audiences for the error.
“The relevant part of the programme will be taken off iPlayer and other online platforms.”
Yesterday afternoon’s gaffe wouldn’t perhaps have been so remarkable had two BBC presenters not had to apologise for both making the same embarrassing verbal slip over the name of Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt earlier in the day.
Jim Naughtie, an anchor on Radio 4’s flagship Today programme, accidentally replaced the first letter of Hunt’s surname with a “C” and within hours Andrew Marr made the same mistake during his Radio 4 cultural discussion programme, Start The Week.
A BBC spokeswoman said: “James and Andrew regret what happened and have both apologised for their verbal tangles on air.
“These instances involved a slip of the tongue during a live broadcast, and we apologise for any offence caused.”
The World at One gaffe is reminiscent of the BBC’s most infamous interview mix up from 2006 when instead of asking questions of technology expert Guy Kewney, the BBC News 24 channel incorrectly pressed an unsuspecting Guy Goma live on air about Apple Computer’s court case with The Beatles record label of the same name. Goma was only in the building for a job interview.
Questions still remain, however, as to what kind of prankster would have been sufficiently in tune with the Lib Dems’ internal machinations to give such plausible answers “off the cuff” to the Standard and World at One.
The real Crockart has indicated that he is indeed considering whether to vote against the tuition fee rises – which would mean resigning from his junior post.