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BBC's flagship politics show Hearts and Minds gets axe

...and Tim the taxi man to go in shake-up along with host Thompson

By Noel McAdam

After more than 16 years, the axe is finally falling on BBC Northern Ireland’s flagship politics programme Hearts and Minds later this month.

BBC bosses have been minded for some time to scrap the show but it has now emerged that all the contributors to the long-running programme have been dropped as well.

None of the component parts are being retained for the replacement Thursday night slot in the autumn.

Thus the character of the taxi driver played by comedian Tim McGarry, who ends each programme with satirical comments on the week, is being given the boot.

A line is also being drawn under the cartoon lampoons of Ian Knox and the regular commentators, including Carrickfergus Pastor Lindsay Allen, unionist commentator Alex Kane, political analyst Newton Emerson and Belfast Telegraph political editor Liam Clarke.

Beeb bosses want to rebrand their coverage by merging Hearts and Minds along with Stormont Today on Monday and Tuesdays and the opt-out section of the Sunday Politics programme.

So they are throwing out the long-established format which routinely finished with cabbie Tim ‘charging’ presenter Noel Thompson £12.50.

The corporation in Belfast yesterday refused to reveal its reasoning behind the changes.

A statement said, instead: “It is not appropriate to comment at this time on any possible changes or individual contracts.”

Mr McGarry, however, told his Facebook followers there are only a few programmes left in the last series — which is due to vanish from our screens on June 21.

Current affairs and news veteran Mark Carruthers, presenter of the monthly Let’s Talk question-time sessions in the Tuesday Spotlight slot, is set to take over from long-serving Hearts and Minds frontman Noel Thompson when the new programme begins in September.

The move has prompted criticism from political representatives — who were grilled by Thompson on the show.

DUP Foyle MLA William Hay — who appeared on Hearts and Minds a number of times — told the Belfast Telegraph: “It was and is a popular programme.

“I think there will be a sadness in political circles that the show has been axed.

“It was a programme that most people who, if they missed it at 7.30, would have watched it later.”

He added: “The show needed revamped but the axing of it was totally and absolutely wrong.”

TUV MLA Jim Allister said it was Northern Ireland’s most penetrating political programme.

“It had a presenter that treated everyone with the same degree of vigour.

“I think it should have been kept,” he said.

However, for Foyle DUP MLA Gregory Campbell — who appeared on the programme several times — the show had become “stale”.

He said: “It did provide a useful venue, both when it commenced and during its lifespan.

“But I did think over the last couple of years it had become typecast.

“It had not changed its format — therefore a radical overhaul had to take place. But I do not think it was the right decision to axe it.”

However, West Tyrone DUP MLA Tom Buchanan — a regular Hearts and Minds follower — believes it was the right decision.

“I think Hearts and Minds is lacking enthusiasm and vision,” he said.

“Is it really tapping into what people want? I do not feel it is.”

Belfast Telegraph

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