When it comes to nailing the art of a political grilling, two of the BBC’s top female stars are leading the way
The BBC’s male stars may (shamefully) outrank their female colleagues when it comes to a pay packet – but they still have some way to go by way of keeping interviewees on their toes.
New research by The Sunday Times out today shows that, out of the corporation’s “top interrogators”, presenters Emily Maitlis and Mishal Husain lead the way when it comes to interrupting guests during political grillings.
Analysis from the past month shows that Newsnight presenter Maitlis cuts short her guests on average every 28 seconds. Husain, who presents on the BBC’s flagship Today programme, along with The Andrew Marr Show, hits an average of 46 seconds per interruption.
Meanwhile, John Humphrys – the outgoing Today host widely known for his “attack dog” tactics – falls into third place, interrupting his guests once every 51 seconds.
Husain has been presenting on the Today programme since 2013, and quickly built up a reputation as a cool-headed and robust interviewer.
She famously told Boris Johnson to “please stop talking” so she could ask a question, in a 2017 encounter (she later confirmed that Johnson had actually interrupted her; she’d been about to say, “please stop talking about [fellow politician] Diane Abbott”).
Maitlis, whose side-eye during a recent Brexit interview went viral, originally thought of becoming a theatre director before she broke into news presenting.
Like Husain, she has the knack of interrupting in a political interview down to a fine art; and believes timing is key.
“If you interrupt somebody too early, if you miss it and don’t interrupt at all – that’s the difference between a good interview and a bad interview. It’s about the absolute moment,” she told The Observer in an interview last month.
Humphrys, who is leaving Today after 32 years in the presenting hot seat, has often faced criticism for what some see as his combative and “hectoring” interview style.
Last year, the BBC defended him amid accusations of aggression in an interview with former Prime Minister Tony Blair, saying: “If a presenter interrupts, the intention is simply to keep the topic on track and ensure that a guest’s views are properly scrutinised.”