Sunday 22 October 2017

Boris backs Beeb over grilling

Boris Johnson on the BBC1 current affairs programme The Andrew Marr Show (Jeff Overs/BBC/PA)
Boris Johnson on the BBC1 current affairs programme The Andrew Marr Show (Jeff Overs/BBC/PA)
Boris Johnson talking to Eddie Mair on The Andrew Marr Show (Jeff Overs/BBC/PA)

Boris Johnson said broadcaster Eddie Mair had done a "splendid job" during an interview in which the Mayor of London was grilled over his "integrity", including suggestions he had lied about having an extra-marital affair.

In the interview with Mr Mair on The Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, a clearly uncomfortable Mr Johnson was forced to deny being a "nasty piece of work'' and refused to discuss allegations about his private life.

Speaking in London, Mr Johnson said: "Eddie Mair did a splendid job. There is no doubt that is what the BBC is for - holding us to account. I fully concede it wasn't my most blistering performance, but that was basically because I was set to talk about the Olympics and housing in London and he wanted to talk about other things, some of them - my private life and so on - of quite some antiquity, the details of which I wasn't brilliant on.

"He was perfectly within his rights to have a bash at me - in fact it would have been shocking if he hadn't. If a BBC presenter can't attack a nasty Tory politician what's the world coming to?"

Asked whether Mr Mair should get Jeremy Paxman's lead anchor role on Newsnight, he added: "I should think he'll get an Oscar, it was an Oscar-winning performance. I think he'll get a Pulitzer."

The mayor's comments come after his father, Stanley Johnson, launched a robust attack on the BBC over the "bike-crash" interview. He said he "felt great anger" towards Mr Mair, who was standing in as presenter on the show, and claimed his son had been abused. "I thought Eddie Mair's interview was about the most disgusting piece of journalism I've listened to for a very long time," he told Nick Ferrari on LBC 97.3. "The BBC sank about as low as it could. If grilling people about their private lives, accusing them of guilt by association and openly abusing them is a legitimate interview, then frankly, I don't know where we are coming."

During the broadcast the mayor was pressed over whether he lied to Tory leader Michael Howard about allegations of an affair in 2004 - which resulted in his resignation as shadow arts minister - as well as claims that he was sacked from The Times more than two decades ago for making up a quote.

Mr Mair also raised a 1990 telephone conversation Mr Johnson had with one of his friends who was demanding the private address of a News of the World journalist. A recording of the call suggested Mr Johnson had agreed to supply the details, even though his friend indicated he wanted to have the reporter beaten up for smearing his family. Mr Johnson stressed that "nothing eventuated" from the conversation, adding: "I think if any of us had our phone conversations bugged people say all sorts of fantastical things whilst talking to their friends."

Mr Mair said: "You are a nasty bit of work, aren't you?" An exasperated Mr Johnson said: "All three things I would dispute... if we had a longer time I could explain that I think all three interpretations you are putting on these things are not wholly fair."

The row comes ahead of a documentary on the mayor's life and career. Boris Johnson: The Irresistible Rise, airs at 9pm. A BBC spokeswoman said: "We believe this was a fair interview which took in issues facing London and the wider political landscape, as well as looking towards tonight's TV portrait programme. As the documentary is biographical, exploring controversial episodes in the mayor's life was considered appropriate. Eddie's line of questioning attempted to elicit responses to direct questions that were not being answered."

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