Friday 2 December 2016

BBC tried to iron out style: Peston

Published 02/06/2015 | 00:21

Robert Peston, pictured in 2009, has won plaudits for his scoops on the financial crisis but when he first joined the BBC he sparked complaints from viewers regarding his on-screen style
Robert Peston, pictured in 2009, has won plaudits for his scoops on the financial crisis but when he first joined the BBC he sparked complaints from viewers regarding his on-screen style

Robert Peston has told how the BBC sent him on a series of training courses to "iron out" his eccentricities.

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The corporation's economics editor, 55, a former newspaper journalist, won plaudits for his scoops on the financial crisis.

But he told Radio Times magazine the corporation took action when viewers complained "they hated the way I sounded".

He said: "Even when you are a reasonably successful print journalist, people may complain about the columns you write, but it's not quite the same - it's nowhere near as personal as what happens as soon as you get on the TV or radio.

"People feel somehow that they can say all sorts of things to you, some of them nice, some of them unbelievably rude.

"And if you work for the BBC they think they employ you - and they do employ us, because they pay the licence fee - so they can say what they like.

"I know the BBC found it quite uncomfortable because it wasn't just people writing to me, it was people moaning in newspapers, and there was quite a lot written about how crap I was."

Asked how the BBC dealt with disgruntled viewers, he said: "They sent me off for training to iron out my eccentricities. They failed completely.

"They hired various presentation specialists, all of whom have gone on to seek other careers, I'm sure, because it was a total failure.

"And then, I had been moaning away about how the economic world as we knew it was about to come to an end because of all these banks taking these stupid risks - and lo and behold it happened.

"I got one or two decent stories, and suddenly people stopped obsessing about the way I said things and started to take an interest in what I was saying.

"And at that point, funnily enough, my eccentricities became quite a useful thing, because people knew who I was and they worked out that what I was saying mattered to their lives, and they began to take notice."

Peston joked: "I was the only person in Britain who was (saved by the economic crash). I owe everything to the crash."

He admitted that he did attempt to change some of his on-air delivery.

"Having a style where people know it's you is a good thing, but if they struggle to understand what you're saying, that's a bad thing," he said.

In recent months the broadcaster has received criticism on Twitter over his appearance after growing his once short-cropped hair into a floppy Hugh Grant look.

"I think I must be going through a mid-life crisis. I just sort of woke up one day and thought, 'I'll grow my hair'. So I have," he said.

Peston told the magazine how counselling still helps him following the death of his wife, writer Sian Busby, from lung cancer three years ago.

"Sian was ill for five years before she died and there were some very difficult times, but I didn't ever expect her to die. So when she died it was the most terrible, terrible, terrible shock," he said.

"I think I am now in much better shape than I was a year ago, two years ago, and that's mainly because I have been asking myself questions about the whole disaster of her dying, thinking about it, talking to people about it.

"I've done counselling - I still see a counsellor - and that's been incredibly helpful, and I always say to people who suffer a tragedy of this sort that counselling is incredibly helpful."

The father-of-two added that he is ready to find love again.

"I think that's a reasonable expectation. It's a hope, yes. It's wonderful for me that I can feel again, and I can take pleasure in the wonderful things that life throws out... Something - touch wood - will come along and hit me in the face any second," he said.

Peston said he was "scandalised" by the lack of money spent on researching cures for lung cancer.

"Sian never smoked in her life. But because there is this perception that you bring lung cancer on yourself because you're a smoker, it doesn't get the funding that other cancers get," he said.

Press Association

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