Tearful Andrew Neil’s tales of woe about GB News leave his critics unmoved

LBC’s James O’Brien attacks veteran broadcaster’s ‘high opinion of himself’

Andrew Neil’s tearful revelations this weekend about amateurism at GB News showed a lack of understanding of broadcasting, according to LBC radio presenter James O’Brien.

“Neil believes that whatever success he enjoyed at the BBC had nothing to do with the BBC – which he subjected to unseemly and ungrateful attacks the moment he was out of the door – and everything to do with him,” said O’Brien, joining those reacting this weekend to Neil’s emotional revelations about his time with GB News, which he now describes as “the worst eight months in my career”.

Neil left the BBC last year after a quarter of a century to set up the right-leaning GB News this summer, but has announced he will no longer work there. In an emotional interview in Saturday’s Daily Mail, Neil, 72, claims that he tried to delay the launch of the new channel because it was not ready. But his experience as chairman of Sky in the late 1980s was ignored, he claims.

“At Sky, we’d had three weeks of rehearsals before going on air. GB News barely had a week, and there were so many hitches with the technology. The CEO wanted to get on air, even if it was ramshackle, and then improve things,” said Neil.

The veteran journalist also says he warned of the dangers of the channel’s novel ideas about creating content, including an abortive scheme to put covert cameras inside school classrooms to expose the supposed leftwing bias of teachers.

“I said: “That’s a really good idea but I think you should take charge of that yourself, and after you get in hot water for breaking about five different laws – including filming minors – come back and talk to me,” says Neil, who remains chairman of the Spectator.

Tweeting before publication of the interview on Friday, Neil, who edited the Sunday Times for a decade, said that having “to revisit terrible, unnecessary times” had been “quite distressing” but that it was “good to get the truth out, at last”.

While Neil’s critics are unsympathetic – several using social media to reach for their metaphoric “tiny violins” – the picture of chaos now painted at the news channel lifts the lid on a media project that aimed to alter the landscape of British television. Much of Neil’s attack centres on the technical obstacles that faced presenters from the moment the channel went live. Lighting failures, sound glitches and a dysfunctional set were just the visible signs of a general lack of preparedness, he believes.

O’Brien argues that Neil himself made two further “rather massive and eminently avoidable mistakes”. “He failed to understand that live television could not camouflage the vapidity and nastiness of anti-woke rhetoric with fancy language and faux intellectualism, in the way that the Spectator does,” he told the Observer.

“Finally, and most fatally for the whole humiliating adventure, he believed that everybody else would share his own unfeasibly high opinion of himself.”

Neil has left the chairman’s seat on the GB News board and a £4m contract with the channel, which is run by former Sky News Australia chief Angelos Frangopoulos, claiming it “would have killed me” to carry on.

GB News, founded by businessmen Andrew Cole and Mark Schneider to challenge established British news providers, argues that Neil’s interview and his appearance on BBC’s Question Time 10 days ago have broken his legal exit agreement. Neil claims in turn that his former employers showed bad faith by briefing against him to the newspapers.

The pain of working there brought the Scottish journalist to the point of breakdown: “By the end of that first week, I knew I had to get out. It was really beginning to affect my health. I wasn’t sleeping. I was waking up at two or three in the morning,” Neil told the Mail, weeping at the memory, adding that the stress involved “was just huge”.


Vanessa Thorpe

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Gravitas, surprises and John Bercow: TV election night coverage
The BBC goes in heavy, Channel 4 goes for laughs and Sky News boasts the former Speaker as a pundit

Harriet Sherwood

07, Dec, 2019 @8:28 PM

Article image
How GB News is bringing US-style opinionated TV news to the UK
New channel is keen to reject comparisons with Fox News despite positioning itself as ‘anti-woke’

Jim Waterson

12, Jun, 2021 @6:00 AM

Article image
Is condemning GB News before it's started a good use of the left's energy? | Zoe Williams
It might seem like the last thing we need, but if the channel avoids fake news we can live with it, says Guardian columnist Zoe Williams

Zoe Williams

09, Feb, 2021 @11:00 AM

Article image
Behind the scenes of Andrew Neil’s departure from GB News
Sources say presenter was in legal battle with rightwing channel’s bosses over his £700,000-a-year contract

Jim Waterson

18, Sep, 2021 @7:00 AM

Article image
GB News launch gains more viewers than BBC or Sky news channels
‘Proud to be British’ new channel has backers including US Discovery and a Dubai-based fund

Kevin Rawlinson and Jim Waterson

14, Jun, 2021 @6:13 PM

Article image
GB News turns to Nigel Farage as its saviour after ratings freefall
TV station also hit by internal dispute over its direction after Guto Harri dropped for ‘taking the knee’

Vanessa Thorpe

17, Jul, 2021 @5:14 PM

Article image
TV tonight: Andrew Neil’s GB News launches
The reactionary news outlet begins its slate of programming. Plus: SAS – Who Dares Wins reaches its finale. Here’s what to watch this evening

Phil Harrison, Graeme Virtue, Ellen E Jones, Jack Seale and Paul Howlett

13, Jun, 2021 @5:00 AM

Article image
Andrew Neil ‘almost had breakdown’ at GB News
Veteran presenter, who quit after eight shows, says technical faults and other problems ‘would have killed him’ if he had carried on

Nadeem Badshah

24, Sep, 2021 @10:18 PM

Article image
GB News is no joke, despite the risible start | Nesrine Malik
As much as it might like to, the left can’t pretend the channel doesn’t exist, says Guardian columnist Nesrine Malik

Nesrine Malik

21, Jun, 2021 @5:00 AM

Article image
Farage, Fox and rolling outrage: the inside story of GB News
It’s the channel that loves to whip up anger, where hosts promote conspiracy theories and scaremongering, and its editors are convinced it is the voice of the people

Tim Adams

11, Mar, 2023 @3:42 PM