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June 8, 2011

Comic Graham Linehan says Today is ‘poisoning discourse’ after car-crash Justin Webb interview

By Sam Brodbeck

The Today programme has been accused of ‘poisoning discourse in this country” by comic writer Graham Linehan after something of a ‘car-crash’ interview with Justin Webb on the Today programme.

Linehan – the writer behind comedies such as Father Ted, Black Books and the IT Crowd – claimed he was “ambushed” into a “typical Today programme bunfight”, after being invited on to the show to discuss his part in a new stage adaptation of The Ladykillers.

Writing on his blog he said:

I would be asked about the ‘problems in adapting a classic film for the stage’, I was told, and critic Michael Billington would be there to ‘provide a wider context’. As soon as Michael arrived in the green room, I realised that he had, in fact, prepared for something else entirely.

Michael, somewhat embarrassed, told me that he was actually providing the opposing side in an argument about the wisdom of adapting the Ladykillers at all. So what I thought was going to be a discussion about the technical challenges afforded by turning a classic film into a worthwhile play, was actually going to be a typical Today program bunfight.

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Asked by Today presenter Justin Webb how he thought he could improve on such a classic film, Linehan replied: “I’m not going to come on the show and talk about all the things I’ve done that have taken over a year…”

Webb said Linehan was “as bad as a cabinet minister” and later accused him of being “cagey”.

Linehan said: “I think the whole thing of asking me in for an adversarial fight between me and Michael is quite artificial.”

With Webb interjecting “hang on a second” and “no he’s not”, Linehan said: “Michael’s been brought on to present the view that it’s not worth doing at all.”

Linehan asks on his blog:

Is mis-briefing your guests ethical journalistic practise? In giving an accurate brief to one side of the discussion, am I to conclude that someone in the show had already made up their mind on the subject, and wanted to skew the debate to their liking? Are little bits of dishonesty like this the only way you guys feel you can maintain your little fight club?

A BBC spokesman told The Telegraph: “There was certainly no intention to ‘ambush’ Mr Linehan…it should come as no surprise to any Today listener, or guest, that the debates on the programme by nature are lively, informative and challenging at times.”

You can listen to the Justin Webb’s discussion with Graham Linehan and Michael Billington on Today here.

Linehan has written more about this on Comment is Free.

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