‘Posh Ed’ bites his tongue

Edward Stourton writes candidly about his life, from public school to war zones – but dodges the rows engulfing the BBC

By Colin FREEMAN

2023-01-21T08:00:00.0000000Z

2023-01-21T08:00:00.0000000Z

Daily Telegraph

https://dailytelegraph.pressreader.com/article/281681143999362

Books

CONFESSIONS by Edward Stourton 304pp, Doubleday, T £16.99 (0844 871 1514), RRP £20, ebook £9.99 Should the BBC’s HR department ever draw up a profile of the kind of person that no longer fits at the corporation, it might look rather like Ed Stourton. For the Radio Four faithful, the veteran presenter has nearnational treasure status, after stints on Today, The World at One and more recently the Sunday religious affairs programme. But in today’s box-ticking Beeb, embarrassed by its Oxbridge elite, he is a serial offender: a scion of a Somerset baronetcy, raised in colonial Nigeria and educated at Ampleforth and Cambridge. Even on Today – where cut-glass accents are hardly rare – his plummy tones saw newspapers nickname him “Posh Ed”. It is to his credit, therefore, that unlike many public figures, he makes no attempt to play down his gilded upbringing in his new book Confessions – Life Re-Examined. Instead, he puts his poshness centre stage, charting his survival as an Establishment figure into the 21stcentury era of BLM and #MeToo. It is part-memoir and, possibly, partvalediction – thanks to a long-running battle with prostate cancer, he says, he will probably not reach 80. “Part of my ambition is to explore the world that made me, privileged and male-dominated as it undoubtedly was,” says Stourton, now 65, in the introduction. “As we edge away from the centre of things, we find ourselves caught up in battles we never imagined – about everything from words and statues to our country’s place in the world.” Certainly, the world that Stourton will leave behind could hardly be more different to the one he was born into. His early memories of Africa, where his father worked for British American Tobacco, are of grand colonial houses, tended by servants who treated him with “extraordinary deference”. At boarding school Ampleforth – known as the Catholic Eton – some teachers regarded even Mozart as racy, and advised boys to wrap a rosary around their hands if tempted to masturbate. At Cambridge, he mixed with future judges, ministers and grandees of every sort (sample diary entry at the time: “I was tussling with Aristotle when Oliver [Letwin] rang and suggested a walk to Grantchester.”). He was also an appalling intellectual snob, taking his own father to task for reading the Daily Telegraph – “the ultimate form of bourgeois degradation” – and making patronising judgments about John Fowles’s books when the novelist gave a talk at Cambridge. With refreshing hindsight, Stourton describes his college self as a “repulsive little toad”. He was, however, smart enough to realise his own privilege – courtesy partly of tabloidy editors at ITN, his first employer, who sent him on tough reporting jobs and reminded him that scripts had to be written for “Mum in Wigan”. Indeed, some of the best chapters are of his days in war zones like Beirut and Bosnia, where a sniper’s bullet went through his car windscreen. He is also good on the craft of TV reporting – including the inane demands of 24-hour rolling news, which leaves correspondents “like some journalistic Sisyphus, endlessly updating your story”. Where Stourton is oddly silent, however, is on whether the oldschool elite from which he comes should still have a place in broadcasting. The book’s PR blurb talks of a changing landscape, with “the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement” and how “men-only clubs have been replaced by Me Too”. So readers might assume they will get his verdict on the rights or wrongs of this – a reasonable expectation, surely, given the Beeb’s current obsession with identity politics. Yet nowhere does he address such thorny issues as metropolitan bias, the representation of nonwhite or working-class voices, or indeed the massive gender pay row that engulfed Today a few years ago. Instead, as this 300-page tome comes to a close, Stourton devotes several pages to his comfortable second home in France. Thanks to his engaging prose, even this year in Provence stuff is perfectly readable – albeit smacking of Telegraph-style bourgeois degradation. But many readers – be they male and pale, or social-justice warriors – would surely prefer his take on the BBC’s endless “woke” rows. Given his own sense of mortality, might now not be a good time to speak his mind? Perhaps “Posh Ed” is just too polite for that…

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