A question of Question Time: Atholl Duncan, BBC head of news, interview

In the week where BBC Scotland's head of news Atholl Duncan announced that he was to leave the corporation, we publish excerpts of an interview with him. In this final instalment he talks about Question Time coming to Glasgow.

Atholl Duncan's enthusiasm is infectious. It is easy to forget that the BBC Scotland head of news and current affairs is part of an organisation which has been told to reduce costs by 25% over the next few years.

But one gets the sense that he sees opportunities in the policy as well as threats. For example, prior to the cost reduction process, the BBC had committed itself to moving production outside of London to centres such as Pacific Quay and Salford Quays.

Some believe this process might now accelerate. One such move which, as Duncan put it, led to much ‘bumping of gums’ in the South East was the decision to relocate the production of Question Time from London to Glasgow.

It’s a development which clearly delighted Duncan, who now finds himself in charge of a key BBC political flagship.

Unfazed by the decision of a number of the London production team to quit as a result, he has now appointed a new team headed by editor Nicolai Gentchen and executive editor Hayley Valentine.

“The good thing about this process,” he said, “is it is now creating opportunities for people in Glasgow who can have a go at jobs they would never have had a chance at before.

“Of course the devil is in detail. But our challenge is to make sure the audience does not notice the change.”

There were reports that the show’s host, veteran broadcaster David Dimbleby, was none too happy at the move either. Said Duncan: “I have met David and I get on very well with him. But what is clear to me is that David does not do this programme for his own sake. He does not do it for the politicians sake. He does is for the audience. And that has been his concern.

“As long as we can show that we can produce a programme which at the least is the same quality, if not better, then he will be happy.

“That's not to say he will attend the new room party at the Grand Ole Opry! But it will be really good to work with him.”

The news team seems to be on a roll, but how far will it go? For years debate has raged north of the border as to whether BBC Scotland should produce a full 'Scottish Six' news bulletin, to replace the UK Six O'Clock news.

Said Duncan: “Audience research on the Scottish Six has always shown that half the people are interested and half the people are not interested. That is not enough for me to change a formula which is seeing the highest audience for a decade.

“At some stage – depending on how Devolution pans out – the news agendas may end up so divergent that a Scottish Six might become inevitable, but that isn't the case at the moment.”

However, that is not to say that Duncan lacks ambition for his team. With the Scottish Election looming he is planning a major operation which will include Radio Scotland broadcasting the results for almost a 24 hour period, and Scotland waking up to its own Scottish Election breakfast show, which will replace the UK version.

Said Duncan: “I want to lift the ambition here. I want to prove that from Scotland and Glasgow we can do the best journalism in the world.”

Duncan announced this week that he was set to leave the BBC to take up the role of executive director, UK and Global for accountancy body ICAS.

Atholl Duncan: the model of a modern media general

Atholl Duncan: Why the Scottish Press need to get into TV

Atholl Duncan on the Scottish Digital Network

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