Young my number one for Desert Island Discs

If you've just gone through childbirth and have a daughter a few days old, you could be forgiven for not really being interested in who is going to replace Sue Lawley on Desert Island Discs.

But if Mark Damazer really wants to get the best person for a programme that's been running since 1942, he should knit something nice and head over to Kirsty Young's house.

Probably anyone who's ever worked with her would acknowledge that Young is an outstanding interviewer — empathic, quick, not afraid to be direct, and best of all, an intelligent listener. When someone like former ITN chief Richard Tait singles you out as the best woman newscaster of the past 50 years, it's not for pedalling your own autocue and having nice teeth.

Post-maternity leave, Young's day job is still with Five reading the news, but anyone who has heard her filling in for Michael Parkinson on Radio 2 will recognise that beyond TV lies a brilliant radio talent waiting for the right outlet. Parkinson himself served a couple of awkward years on interview island after Roy Plomley's death.

Desert Island Discs is exactly the right place for Young.

There are plenty of people who could do the job, and some who just plain need a job. But this is not an appointment you make to solve a talent management conundrum.

Nor are the bookmakers' lists of everyone who's ever leaned into a microphone a useful guide as to who could actually take the programme forward.

The best lesson comes from history.

The BBC made a brave decision when it chose Lawley for the programme. Lawley has carved out a style and agenda for the format that's neither sandpaper nor syrup, but is surprisingly effective. As a measure of her success, you need only look at Sky News chief Nick Pollard telling an audience recently that the two most revealing political interviews he'd heard this year were on Desert Island Discs. There were no gasps of surprise from the assembly. The tribute is not down to the theme tune and the format, it's down to the presenter. The Plomley family, which owns the copyright, should take note.

Lawley was never one for selfrevelatory presentation. The guests, their music and their answers or — more tellingly — their silences, were the reason millions tuned in week after week.

For propping up the Radio 4 schedule for 18 years, Lawley deserves rather more recognition than she's been given. The official tributes were suitably glowing, but she has somehow remained an outsider, and that perhaps is also a reason for her understated success.

Radio 4's controller has a mixed record. Faced with the hapless presenter carousel at Home Truths, Damazer has wisely given it the bullet. No sentimentality spared for the early morning theme.

But Letter From America has been followed by a series on weak on-air try-outs.

Replacing Lawley offers the Radio 4 controller a chance to make a dramatic change. Young is outside the ring of conventional BBC talent, but she's accomplished, modern and a direct successor to Lawley. Of course, the title could also do with updating. Desert iPod Downloads, anyone?

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