BBC coverage of EU referendum results set to be fronted by David Dimbleby

Veteran broadcaster poised to be named for high-profile role despite his contract ending this summer, after the success of his general election coverage

David Dimbleby is set to front the BBC’s coverage of the EU referendum results despite reports that he would step back from big political broadcasts after the general election last year.

The 77-year-old’s contract expires this summer and the decision to allow him to host such a nationally important poll will come as a blow to other BBC big hitters, especially Huw Edwards, anchor of the News at Ten.

Edwards, who had hoped to present the 2015 general election results, will instead lead the corporation’s coverage of local elections in May.

The BBC refused to confirm the news, but one insider said the hugely significant referendum results were felt to be a “fitting send-off” for the veteran broadcaster. It is not yet known whether Dimbleby’s five-year contract, which includes hosting Question Time for a reported £15,000 an episode, will be extended.

Dimbleby, who has presented Question Time since 1994, has previously said: “I shall be dragged kicking and screaming from my chair.” Given the ratings success of the show – it regularly attacts 2 million viewers at 10.35pm on Thursday nights – the BBC is thought to be unwilling to replace him.

The referendum could feasibly be delayed until 2017 but the government is understood to be keen to get votes cast before the summer. A delay until October will mean voters go to the polls after the summer migration peak.

Before the former director general left the BBC in 2012, Edwards was reportedly given a “cast-iron guarantee” by Mark Thompson that he would lead the 2015 election results.

Dimbleby, who has anchored the BBC’s coverage of every general election since 1979, held sway after convincing incoming director general Tony Hall, an old friend, to let him stay on. The corporation’s election coverage dominated the ratings on the night.

As well as election night results and Question Time, Dimbleby’s career has included presenting nearly all major state events from the Queen Mother’s funeral to royal weddings, budget specials and European elections results programmes, and in 2008 and 2012 he also anchored the BBC’s coverage of the US election night.

Dimbleby is understood to have made no secret of his desire to present the EU referendum result.

Under Hall and James Harding, the BBC director of news, plans were put in place to bring forward a new generation of presenters with more female, black and ethnic minority faces on air.

The son and brother of well-known broadcasters, Dimbleby who has admitted to being member of Bullingdon club while at Oxford University, has sometimes been the focus of the debate over the lack of older female presenters on TV.

Described as a “charming dinosaur” by former newsreader Anna Ford, he has criticised broadcasters for ageism and sexism. “I don’t think age should be a factor for women appearing on TV,” he said. “I agree that it is demeaning to women and ... it’s a crazy loss of talent.”

The row erupted against this week when Dame Joan Bakewell said she would like to a woman eventually replace Dimbleby on Question Time. Jonathan Dimbleby, the 71-year-old host of Radio 4’s Any Questions, told the Daily Mail: “To say David is past it is just daft. Just watch David doing his job – he’s brilliant. The [very] idea, you say you are past it and reach your cut-off date!’

Bakewell, who sits in the House of Lords, accused the Mail of misquoting her.

Daily mail setting me against the Dimblebys: but I NEVER said he shd go NOW! Stop stirring!

— Joan Bakewell (@JDBakewell) January 14, 2016

A BBC spokesman declined to confirm the decision, saying: “There is always a lot of keen speculation around this. The election night hosts for 2016 will be announced in due course.”


Jane Martinson

The GuardianTramp

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