Tuesday 25 October 2016

Only truly great have the Crick Factor

We are conditioned to dismiss the 'mavericks' out there as not really 'proper' broadcasters

Published 23/03/2014 | 02:30

Chris Donoghue, Pat Kenny and Ivan Yates
Chris Donoghue, Pat Kenny and Ivan Yates
Illustration by Jim Cogan

YOU could call it the Crick Factor, after Michael Crick, the former BBC Newsnight reporter. It is a phenomenon whereby certain broadcasters and journalists who are exceptionally good at what they do are regarded as mavericks, even mere oddballs, somehow not quite the real thing.

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I name it after Crick because I was always a great admirer of his reports on Newsnight, and yet in some part of my mind I was still conditioned to see him in these faintly dismissive terms – he was "off-beat", or perhaps the lowest cut of all, "quirky".

In fact, Crick was none of these things. Crick was just great.

He was smart and funny and he had a personality which he didn't leave at the front desk of the BBC before embarking on his day's journalism. A Michael Crick report tended to have a different feel to it than the other Newsnight reports. It had more energy, more life in it. It was just better.

And yet despite all that – perhaps because of all that – you could form this strange impression that he wasn't really a bona fide employee of the BBC at all, that they would somehow draft him in for these special occasions, if they couldn't get a proper broadcaster to do it.

I can feel a bit of the Crick Factor coming on, when I listen to Ivan Yates these days – and to Chris Donoghue, his breakfast show partner on Newstalk. We must never underestimate the straight man in these arrangements.

But Yates possesses the Crick Factor in a purer form, probably because he really has come into this line of work from a most unusual angle, and as a result, he never got to learn a lot of the bad habits of the proper broadcaster. Like Crick, he is bringing loads of personality to the game, always an attitude. He has already started about 12 arguments about the state of the world by the time that Morning Ireland has (in a suitably grave tone of voice) identified the issues.

Most mornings now, he and Chris are demolishing their august opponents just by their energy levels alone. They are killing them with the force of their personalities, their hunger for the fray, their refusal to indulge in that lowdown dirty lie of impartiality.

And yet due to a lifetime of conditioning, we are inclined to believe that the real broadcasters are the ones on Morning Ireland, and that Ivan is just sort of passing through on the way to the next circus in his over-eventful career. That the RTE crew is doing it the right way, whereas Ivan is just being "colourful".

But in fact it is Ivan who is doing it the right way.

The "real" broadcasters in Montrose are a bit like session musicians, doing a professional job, playing the right notes, in the right order. Ivan and Chris are in that studio trying to raise a little hell.

Then again, Ivan probably would not have the finest of record collections himself – no great friend of the arts he. But he compensates for this with his complete authority in all areas of sport.

This gives him a straight connection to the deepest yearnings of the Irish people. But it also gives him a kind of a moral advantage over his rivals in Montrose, who must persist with the pretence that some of our local pastimes are just as important to the listeners as that oul' Champions League stuff.

Ivan is free of such pieties. He is not a prisoner of that culture which encourages such inaccurate and indeed dishonest journalism. He does not even bother to explain that the City of which he is a fan is Manchester City, because he kind of assumes that every intelligent listener knows what City he means, and in this, again he is right.

Interestingly, Michael Crick is also a football man. Indeed some of his best work involved the pursuit of Sir Alex Ferguson, making Crick one of the very few journalists of our time who genuinely troubled the Ogre, and certainly the only one who happened also to be a Manchester United fan.

We have no proof that being a football man or woman gives you that superior broadcasting gene, though perhaps it provides a clue to the conundrum – since most current affairs journalists spent their formative years immersed in the results of opinion polls rather than football matches, they tend to know too little of the world.

Crick is gone from the BBC now to Channel 4 News, as is the former Newsnight Business Editor Paul Mason, another deeply individualistic broadcaster, another football man, and an aficionado of the Northern Soul scene.

No doubt the BBC thinks it can get along fine without these "oddballs", just as RTE will look at Ivan Yates and regard what

he does as some form of light entertainment. "Knockabout stuff," they will murmur, as they strive for some fictional "balance".

But then you remember the Crick Factor, and you get down to the real difference between those who are balanced and those who are, shall we say, unbalanced – it's not just their attitude, it's the fact that the latter seem to have spent some time in the world inhabited by their audience, whereas many of the former never really left school.

The unbalanced ones are the real grown-ups here.

Sunday Independent

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