Culture

Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg review – debut nerves? Yes, for Liz Truss

For 29 years, the Sunday morning political show on BBC One has been presented by guys in ties: Sir David Frost from 1993 to 2005, followed by Andrew Marr until last year.

An interregnum with Sophie Raworth paved the way for a host without a designer noose around their neck, but Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg, the new permanent occupant of the slot, already feels like a game-changer after Frost on Sunday and The Andrew Marr Show, merely from the name in the title, underlined by an onscreen logo with the letters L and K artfully entwined as if on an upmarket luggage brand.

In the opening moments, the former BBC political editor introduced another revolutionary move. For nearly three decades, this slot started with a 10 to 15-minute review of the Sunday newspapers, camera angles artfully calculated to avoid headlines the BBC considered too sleazy or that attacked the corporation.

This tradition of free advertising for print titles began as a way of appeasing the newspaper industry’s fears that the BBC website was stealing readerships, but with most people now having read the key pieces online long before 9am on Sunday, it slowed shows down, and the shape and pacing of the new version are better without it.

The use on the opening titles and studio backdrop of scribbled pictures of political landmarks including Big Ben and the House Of Commons is reminiscent of the graphic design of earlier BBC shows such as Sunday Politics and This Week. Most of Kuennsberg’s hour is given over to detailed political interviews.

She had landed both Conservative leadership contenders (did this give Liz Truss the excuse to pull out of a scheduled interview with Nick Robinson on BBC One last week?) and flown to Ukraine to talk, through an interpreter, with Olena Zelenska, the wife of Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

Kuenssberg and Truss were wearing almost identical black dresses, which could be viewed as either a coincidence or a fashion statement. Frost/Marr and Westminster men wore suits of the same colour on hundreds of occasions without comment, so perhaps we should drop this as an issue for women in public life.

Between interviews, Kuenssberg received immediate feedback from a panel composed of the shadow attorney general, Emily Thornberry, the former Downing Street aide Cleo Watson and the comedian Joe Lycett. The trio mainly chatted politics but were also asked about the Artemis space project and the Foo Fighters concert at Wembley. As under Frost and Marr, some lighter stories are included to appease any non-political obsessives who have wandered in.

Few launches – whether of rockets or TV shows – are completely smooth and, in one uneasy sequence, Kuenssberg suffered for the BBC’s unofficial recent amendment to the royal charter, requiring any TV or radio panel to include a comedian.

As the Truss interview ended, Lycett could be heard off-camera cheering and shouting “Well done Liz” in a way surprising to those who know his act. Pressed on his partisanship, Lycett claimed, “I’m very rightwing”, and declared himself completely reassured by Truss’s promises.

Kuenssberg soon caught on that the comedian was likely being subversive. But if it continues, the taking of ironic mock political positions is going to make the BBC’s pursuit of editorial neutrality even harder. You can imagine a producer urgently passing a note to Watson or Thornberry asking them to big-up Sunak in a fake-sincere way.

Around the other media relaunch of the past week – Emily Maitlis and Jon Sopel’s podcast for Global – Maitlis has frequently suggested she has felt liberated since leaving the BBC.

Intriguingly, though, Kuenssberg seems to have been liberated within the BBC. As political editor, she sometimes seemed tense, understandably, given the pressure of speaking from a freezing Westminster Green with a countdown in her ear, while Downing Street and the BBC scrutinised her lines for signs of bias.

On her studio debut, she was relaxed, engaged and engaging. Old BBC News hands will likely mutter that Truss, Sunak and Zelenska failed to deliver any significant news stories, which is often seen as the Sunday political show’s reason for being.

But that was almost inevitable given multiple publicised guests, all with a reason to be cagey.

With the UK’s likely next female prime minister and the first lady of Ukraine, Kuenssberg did, though, achieve the other goal of interviewing: illuminating character. A strong sense came through of Zelenska’s astonishing courage and somehow even humour, in trying to support her family and country to overcome existential threats.

And launching a new live broadcasting show is pulse-thumpingly stressful, but only one woman in the Sunday morning studio looked viscerally nervous and uncertain of her lines.

Unfortunately, it was the one who is considered likely to be crowned prime minister-elect on Monday.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Back to top button