The Independent

There’s a lot to be said for being clear in your beliefs

As he gets ready for some weekend TV, Will Gore draws a link between Gary Lineker and another beloved presenter


It’s been quite a week for national treasures. Gary Lineker has been at the centre of attention, following his criticism of the government’s policy to curb asylum seekers crossing the Channel. Ministers were especially upset at Lineker’s tweeted suggestion that the language in which their plans are couched resembles the kind of terminolog­y found in 1930s Germany. The

presenter has “stepped back” from presenting Match of the Day until he can come to an agreement with the BBC on his use of social media.

A “flippant analogy”, Suella Braverman angrily called Lineker’s tweet, shortly before Penny Mordaunt got up in the Commons to decry Labour for copying the Lineker playbook and being a bunch of goal-hangers and left-wing strikers. If only “flippant” was the worst that could be said about that tortuous comparison.

Of course, it’s Lineker’s role as a presenter for the licence fee-funded BBC that causes politician­s to get hot under the collar – even though he’s a freelancer with no role in presenting news. I do sometimes wonder, however, whether ministers appreciate quite how oddly it plays when they are seen to get quite so angry about a guy who was brilliant at football, very good at eating crisps and is widely admired as a sports broadcaste­r.

For another of the BBC’s big names, there has been controvers­y this week. There has been much anticipati­on at the prospect of Sir David Attenborou­gh’s latest documentar­y series, Wild Isles, which begins today. Indeed, in our house, the only fly in the ointment was that it was due to be shown at the same time as the Stephen Fry-hosted Dinosaur. You’d have thought that the advent of streaming services would make arguments about which TV channel to watch entirely moot: not so.

In the new programme, Attenborou­gh will tell us about the natural wondrousne­ss of our country, and how we’re probably wrecking it. But news has come to light that the BBC will only broadcast five instalment­s of the six filmed, out of concern that the episode in question’s stark warnings and message about rewilding will cause a backlash among right-wingers. The decision has incensed the makers of Wild Isles, who reportedly blame “lobbying groups that are desperatel­y hanging on to their dinosauria­n ways”.

Lineker, whose own clear outlook on issues he believes in is the source of this week’s trouble, might wonder what it will take to gain Attenborou­gh status

I have a personal soft spot for Sir David. A few years ago, I wrote to him on behalf of The Independen­t, to ask him if he’d be interested in lending his support to a campaign we were running. I had been told that he didn’t have an agent or a team of publicists, and so it was best simply to write to him direct – via the post, not email. I sent off a letter doubting that he would even see it. But sure enough, within a week or so, back came a reply – also via snail mail. The answer to my question was a “no”, but a very courteous and personal one, from a man who presumably had a very busy schedule. It showed a level of care that feels increasing­ly rare.

There have, perhaps inevitably, been controvers­ies surroundin­g Attenborou­gh’s work and views over the years. Some said he was too slow to accept the role of humans in causing climate change; others (mostly deniers) have argued he has subsequent­ly gone too far in the other direction. There have been claims about his films being too bleak, or too rosy. And Attenborou­gh’s views about controllin­g human population growth have come in for criticism from some quarters.

But really, Attenborou­gh’s clarity of vision – and his clear explanatio­n of any changes to his outlook – is what sets him apart on issues that matter to us all. His ability to communicat­e messages about the fragility of our planet in a way that is both

disconcert­ing and compassion­ate remains resonant because it is so obviously driven by Attenborou­gh’s sincere beliefs.

Lineker, whose own clear outlook on issues he believes in is the source of this week’s trouble, might wonder what it will take to gain Attenborou­gh status. Only talking about the subject he’s best known for? Not working for the BBC? Or does he just need to reach the age of 96?

Here’s a strange quirk though. In the 1960s, prior to his permanent move into making natural history films, Attenborou­gh spent four years in charge of BBC 2 (and another four as director of programmes for the whole BBC). During that period, which did much to shape the future outlook of the channel, he commission­ed a range of shows, including one Match of the Day. The thread from Attenborou­gh to Lineker might, it seems, be more direct than you’d imagine.

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 ?? PA) ?? The pundit has been unflinchin­g in his criticism of the new immigratio­n bill(
PA) The pundit has been unflinchin­g in his criticism of the new immigratio­n bill(
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