Barney Jones

December 3, 2007

When Peter Cook was asked ‘did he have any regrets in life?’ he replied: ‘saving David Frost from drowning.’ The opposite seems to be the case with Barney Jones who devised, piloted and produced ‘Breakfast With Frost’ for far too long. Although the programme was not without tough choices right from the start:

When David agreed to present the new weekly show, the first thing to settle was the title. After The Frost Report, Frost over America, Frost on Sunday and David Frost presents, there was clearly one prerequisite. Thus Breakfast with Frost was born, and a show that has generated more clips on TV and more newspaper headlines than any other news programme on British television embarked on what was to be a 12 year run.”

But what was in these rehashed clips? A show so anodyne it was used like in-house PR and played like a violin by a train of politicians so that it rarely ascended beyond its own satirical parodies. Jones is the fellow who did the behind the scenes deals to get the stars to plonk down their behinds knowing they could expect Q&As as comfy as the sofa.

Starting a media career as Director of Communications for the National Union of Students (what is it about the NUS?) after graduating he joined the BBC in 1984 as a reporter based at the House of Commons (the same time as Andrew Marr), then worked on Newsnight, the TV news, Breakfast News and the 1992 General Election.

“Career highlights include setting up a joint interview with Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, getting Elton John into the studio the morning after he played Candle in the Wind at Princess Diana’s funeral, and getting Nelson Mandela dancing in the Breakfast With Frost studio at the end of his interview.”

What were the lows one wonders. But it is all change now: Jones is the producer of Sunday AM, presented by Andrew Marr. Both Marr and Frosty are not exactly infamous for asking penetrating questions. To fill this void Jones seems as star struck as the autograph hunters outside Broadcasting House. His memoir of the heady days of Frost are more Elton, Diana, ‘Becks and Sven’ (first name terms you see).

No, these programmes are actually synonymous with not asking questions and of foisting on us a deference towards politicians which is not shared by the majority of the viewers and contributes almost nothing to a greater political understanding. But there are exceptions here such as Marr’s interview with crazy Noam Chomsky, wherein the news media itself was discussed:

Marr: How can you know that I’m self-censoring? How can you know that journalists are…

Chomsky: I don’t say you’re self-censoring — I’m sure you believe everything you’re saying; but what I’m saying is, if you believed something different, you wouldn’t be sitting where you’re sitting.”

Marr has contributed to Editorial Intelligence with his usual gravitas, offering a valuable insight “on needing a shower before he writes a column.” Read it and weep Chomsky. But who can forget those high points in Marr’s programme, such as the the time (Sunday, 2 July 2006) when, trying to leave, old George Soros put his arse was in front of the camera while Marr’s head repeatedly bobbed behind him to the left and right, trying to find the camera in what looked frighteningly sexual. Eventually Soros shuffled away to stroke his Persian cat as Marr told us we were now going to hear the Bonzo Dog Do-dah band — one feels the ghost of Vivian Stanshall was in the room.

Jones is more at home as part of the incessant handing over of large perspex obelisks as a judge of either BT’s Press and Broadcast Awards or The Royal Television Society’s which has offices next to EI’s Dominic Fry’s PR company Tulchan. At a time when appalling numbers of journalists are being killed and murdered in the Iraq war and the truth media-managed out of the picture, there is something slightly lunatic about award ceremonies — best obfuscation in a political interview…best pause in a handover…best ‘and finally’ penguin story…fastest scrolling info bar.

After hearing that Jones had joined Editorial Intelligence the BBC ‘forced’ him and Kirsty Lang to quit the EI advisory board. This was not so much a value judgement rather, it was predicated on the fact that they would be paid £1,000 to hold the position and £200 to attend its seminars. As if the BBC wasn’t ravaged by this sort of thing. Now, Elton you have a new single out. To finish is a link to a round up of who rounded up the papers on the show which contains quite a few from the EI gang: Matthew D’Ancona, John Kampfner (and an awful lot of Sarah Sands, and way too much Amanda Platell, Carol Thatcher and Glenys Kinnock).

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