BBC announces Fiona Bruce as the new presenter of Question Time

Fiona Bruce says she is ‘thrilled and honoured’ to be named as the new presenter of Question Time – making her the first female to host the BBC’s flagship news programme in its 40-year history

  • Fiona Bruce – who joined the BBC in 1989 – will start her new job on January 10  
  • David Dimbleby announced in June that he would be leaving role after 25 years 
  • Bruce, 54, will become the first female host in the current affair show’s history
  • Six candidates had hosted a pilot episode with panellists and a live audience
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Fiona Bruce will become the first female presenter of the current affairs panel show

Fiona Bruce today admitted she was ‘thrilled and honoured’ after the BBC confirmed she will be the new Question Time presenter. 

The 54-year-old newsreader, who will start the role on January 10, was offered the job last month and has now ironed out her contract with the Corporation.

She will replace veteran presenter David Dimbleby, who announced in June that he would be leaving the role this month, after 25 years in the presenter’s chair.

Bruce will become the first female host in the current affair show’s history after BBC bosses including director general Tony Hall and director of news Fran Unsworth signed off the appointment.

The Antiques Roadshow presenter was one of six contenders who were put through their paces by a cross-party panel of MPs and journalists in front of an audience at a South London school.

She was originally considered a long shot, but after an ‘outstanding’ audition she beat off competition from the likes of Kirsty Wark and Emily Maitlis.

David Dimbleby, who is 80, announced in June that he would be leaving the role this month

The BBC News At Six and News At Ten host said: ‘It is an honour to be asked to take on one of the great political programmes of the BBC. Particularly at a time of such historic change for the UK and tumult at Westminster.

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‘For many years Question Time has been presented by one of my television heroes so I am thrilled and not a little daunted to be stepping into his shoes.

David Dimbleby’s funniest moments on Question Time

When told by John Prescott that he was called Dimblebot on Twitter, Dimbleby replied: ‘I do know I’m called Dimblebot and I know there is a Dimbledance – and I can do it, too… but this is neither the time or the place.’

After committed Remainer Terry Christian repeatedly talked over the host and other panellists, Dimbleby told him: ‘OK, let’s stop, stop, stop, stop, stop, please. It’s getting boring, boring, boring. If we’re going to have arguments conducted like this, I can see why people get bored.’

Dimbleby first hosted the BBC’s flagship politcal programme Question Time in 1994 

When an audience member refused to stop talking while guests were trying to speak, Dimbleby said to rapturous applause: ‘I think you ought to leave.’

During a debate on the EU referendum a year before the vote, he tried to move on from the topic by saying: OK, let’s leave the EU for the moment.’ After much laughter, he added: ‘Only for the moment.’

In 2013, when Boris Johnson warned against ‘an orgy of banker bashing’, comedian Russell Brand joked: ‘An orgy of any kind would be great, but one that focuses on banker bashing would be the best kind of orgy I could imagine.’

When Dimbleby gently mocked Jacob Rees-Mogg for attending Eton, the Tory MP replied: I was at school with your son.’

Speaking of politicians on the show, he said: ‘What they most dislike is the question that catches them off guard and the humiliation of being publicly mocked.’ 

‘But it is a programme I have watched for as long as I can remember and have long wanted to be part of. I can’t wait to get started.’

Bruce will take over the flagship show after 80-year-old Dimbleby presents his final episode next Thursday. He has said he wants to return to his ‘first love’, reporting. 

Dimbleby first presented Question Time on January 14 1994 and is the longest serving presenter of the show. He beat rival Jeremy Paxman after each had to endure a gruelling audition for the role.

The debate programme was previously hosted by Peter Sissons and its first host Sir Robin Day. 

Unsworth said: ‘Question Time is one of our flagship political programmes, giving people across Britain the chance to hold the powerful to account.

‘David Dimbleby has done an extraordinary job as chair over the last 25 years.

‘David is a tough act to follow, but Fiona impressed us all – with her authority, warmth, and ability to connect with the audience and champion their concerns. We’re delighted to have her at the helm.’

Director of BBC content Charlotte Moore added: ‘The role of Question Time host has a unique place in British political life, bringing together the public and politicians every week in front of millions of viewers on BBC One.

‘David has been a wonderful host for many years. Fiona’s huge experience and long established relationship with audiences make her the ideal person to follow in his footsteps.’

Bruce, who used to present Crimewatch, will continue to present the main news bulletins regularly and will still present Antiques Roadshow and Fake Or Fortune?.

Names tipped among his possible successors had included Victoria Derbyshire, Nick Robinson, Jeremy Paxman, John Humphrys and Huw Edwards.

After the BBC’s gender pay row, it was assumed a woman would replace Dimbleby. Robinson, the host of Radio 4’s Today programme, was the only male to audition. 

How David Dimbleby has presided over every election night since 1979

Dimbleby, pictured hosting Panorama in 1974, has been with the BBC for 57 years

David Dimbleby, who at 75 had a scorpion tattooed on his back, began at the BBC 57 years ago as a news reporter in Bristol after leaving Oxford with a degree in politics, philosophy and economics.

He led the BBC’s coverage of the Common Market referendum in 1975, a role he repeated in 2016 when the UK voted for Brexit.

Although best known now for election nights and Question Time, he led coverage of the funerals of Diana, Princess of Wales, and the Queen Mother.

Dimbleby has presided over every BBC election night broadcast since 1979, as well as Budget Days and local, European and American elections.

The 2015 election was set to be his last, with BBC News presenter Huw Edwards due to take over.

Dimbleby laughs with the late prime minister Margaret Thatcher in London in 1990

But when Theresa May announced the snap election last year, a behind-the-scenes tussle resulted in a BBC announcement that Dimbleby would present it.

The veteran, who is paid about £450,000 to present Question Time, has also presented the BBC’s coverage of the annual Remembrance Day service at the Cenotaph and other state occasions.

Dimbleby, who took over on Question Time from Peter Sissons in January 1994, will sit in the chair for the final time on December 13.

Dimbleby meets former Zimbabwe leader Robert Mugabe for an interview in May 2000

He is the longest serving presenter of the show, and beat rival Jeremy Paxman after each had to endure a gruelling audition for the role.

The debate programme was previously hosted by Peter Sissons and its first host Sir Robin Day, who died in 2000.

Dimbleby’s name has also been mentioned as a possible director-general of the BBC.

Dimbleby and Fiona Bruce, with Peter Snow in the background, at TV Centre in 2005

In 2014 he told how hard it would be to hand over the reins of the election coverage, saying: ‘I don’t have any instinct to make way gracefully. I shall be dragged kicking and screaming from my chair.’

As for Question Time, Dimbleby said earlier this year that it had been ‘exhilarating following the twists and turns of British politics’, and a privilege to bring ‘voters face to face with those in power’.

BBC bosses described him as a ‘titan in British broadcasting’ who had been a ‘brilliant champion of the public’.

Fiona Bruce shows off her serious and silly sides during a long BBC career that now sees her earn £350,000 a year

Fiona Bruce, pictured in 2000, joined the BBC as a researcher on Panorama in 1989

Fiona Bruce’s on-screen work as presenter and host has straddled the hard-hitting as well as the light-hearted.

The 54-year-old journalist joined the BBC as a researcher on Panorama in 1989 and over the next 14 years rose to become the first female newsreader on the BBC’s flagship News At Ten.

Now, 15 years on, she is to replace David Dimbleby as presenter of Question Time.

Born to an English mother and Scottish father living as expats in Singapore, Bruce was educated between the UK and Italy, first at Gayton Primary School on the Wirral and then at the International School of Milan.

She returned to the UK at 14 to study at Haberdashers’ Aske’s Hatcham College in New Cross, south-east London, picking up a lucrative sideline modelling for the now defunct girls’ magazine Jackie.

Studying at the University of Oxford, Bruce went punk, dyeing her hair blue for a week, joining a band and becoming involved in activism.

Bruce, who is a mother-of-two, is pictured hosting Crimewatch with Nick Ross in 2004

After a brief stint working as a management consultant, Bruce joined the BBC, eventually becoming secondary presenter on the Six O’Clock News.

In 2003, as part of a major BBC reshuffle, Bruce was offered the job of presenting the Ten O’Clock News. She accepted, becoming the first female presenter on the flagship bulletin.

Bruce has also presented some of the BBC’s best-loved light entertainment programmes, such as Antiques Roadshow and Fake Or Fortune? and has become one of the BBC’s best-paid stars, earning more than £350,000 a year.

Bruce presents the Antiques Roadshow 40th anniversary special from Castle Howard last year

In 1994, she married Nigel Sharrocks, a media chairman, in a ceremony in Islington, north London. They have two children, a 20-year-old son, Sam, and daughter Mia, born in November 2001.

Bruce has been vocal in her support for feminism and said in 2014 that she does not use social media because of the abuse and trolling directed at women in the public eye.

Her less serious side has been seen during the BBC’s Children In Need telethons. 

Bruce poses with for Sophie Raworth and Natasha Kaplinsky for the BBC’s Children In Need telethon in 2004

In 2007 she emerged from behind a news desk for a song and dance segment.

Her rendition that night of All That Jazz from the musical Chicago so impressed the team behind its West End revival that they invited her on stage during its 10th anniversary special.

Bruce will first be seen on screen in her Question Time role on January 10.

AMANDA PLATELL: Fiona Bruce doesn’t have the cunning, political nous or ferocity to command the Question Time bear pit 

As the presenter of the Antiques Roadshow, Fiona Bruce should be able to differentiate between a priceless chalice and a poisoned one.

One of the most eloquent, intelligent and gracious faces on TV, she has been offered the job of presenting Question Time, taking over from David Dimbleby who has held the chair for nearly a quarter of a century.

My advice? Don’t take it, Fiona!

It’s not that she’s not clever enough, she is. But replacing DD — an antique himself — is the most daunting prospect. As a long-time QT panellist, I have been a fierce critic of Dimbleby, yet I concede he has in his little finger more political knowledge than all of his guests combined.

Question Time is the only serious political programme that provides a platform for proper debate, pitting minister against shadow minister. Where panellists do battle with each other as well as the formidable and often baying audience.

It is a bear pit. Do Fiona’s virtues prepare her for that? Does she have the forensic political insight for the job? I suspect not, even though she cut her teeth on Panorama and Newsnight and was the first woman presenter on a BBC election broadcast.

In any case, would she really want to win the race when men were not included in the heats? Yes, Nick Robinson was a token male candidate but the achingly PC Beeb was never going to give the job to a man.

What joy is there in winning the top prize when 50 per cent of the candidates can’t compete? Andrew Neil, Robert Peston, John Pienaar, to name but a few — all excluded because of their sex. And much as I adore Fiona, does she really match up to Laura Kuenssberg or Emily Maitlis?

Question Time is the toughest of gigs for the presenter. It doesn’t require poise but cunning, political nous and a ferocity and command I suspect Fiona does not possess.

The job is not so much herding cats, as being ringmaster to starving lions ready to bite each others’ heads off. It’s not the Antiques Roadshow. This is politics in the raw, where everyone believes they know all the answers.

It is, and should be, forensic, fierce, formidable. That’s not Fiona Bruce. She’ll be a butterfly broken on the unrelenting wheel of politics.

Or does the BBC have some dastardly plan to turn QT into a nice, friendly chat? In which case three million viewers will turn off.

As a QT regular, I still get calls from politicians asking for advice before they go on. Apart from being on top of your brief, the key thing is to breathe calmly and smile. Advice not taken by the first woman I counselled, a Shadow Education Minister, one Theresa May.

AMANDA PLATELL was writing in the Daily Mail on November 24

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