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Did Boris and Nick Robinson’s fiery BBC clash begin with Oxford rivalry?

Nick Robinson’s political differences with Boris Johnson go back to Oxford University in the 1980s when the BBC broadcaster was tipped to be prime minister and was said to consider the current incumbent too left-wing to be a Tory. 

It came as the BBC decided not to admonish Mr Robinson after he ordered Mr Johnson to ‘stop talking’ live on air yesterday. Sources at the Corporation have said the £300,000-a-year presenter has not been rebuked by bosses as Radio 4 declined to comment on the incendiary interview that has upset No 10 and Conservative MPs.

It is not the first time the men have clashed with Robinson recently comparing him to a ‘dictator’ and accused him avoiding the scrutiny of journalists. 

Boris and Nick first met at Oxford University when Mr Robinson was president of the Oxford University Conservative Association and was nicknamed ‘Blue Robbo’ because of his staunch support for the Tories then led by Margaret Thatcher. 

He didn’t think Boris was a Conservative at all because he appeared too liberal, those who knew them both at university in the 1980s have said, assuming instead that he was a supporter of the SDP/Liberal Alliance at the time, according to The Spectator.

Neil Sherlock, who beat the young Johnson to become Oxford Union president in 1984, said recently: ‘I always thought at university that Nick Robinson would be the big political star and that Boris Johnson would be a journalist. When I left Oxford, that’s what I thought would happen’.

He added: ‘In 1984-85, if you told me that Boris Johnson was going to be prime minister, I would have been very surprised. If you’d asked me then, I would have said Nick Robinson’. 

Nick Robinson and Boris Johnson were at Oxford University together – pictured at the Oxford Union – but contemporaries said then the BBC broadcaster, then 

Mr Sherlock described how after his own Oxford Union, a ‘Boris two’ persona emerged that was more liberal, which saw the current PM being elected president the following year. 

But after a lucky escape from a car crash in France that killed two of his best friends and left him badly injured with burns all over his body, he turned his back on frontline politics and decided to cover it as a journalist instead, earning the new moniker of the ‘The Rottweiler’ and ‘Killer Robinson’ because of his of ferocious interviews. 

How broadcaster Nick Robinson was nicknamed ‘Blue Robbo’ at Oxford because of his passion for the Tories 

BACKGROUND: His translator mother was the child of German Jews and she was brought up in the Far East. She came to England to get married – to Robinson’s father, a sales director for a metal firm. 

MARITAL STATUS: Met wife-to-be Pippa at Oxford. He recalls: ‘She was in a state of some disarray at the end of a party! Either I was gallant or lustful – I rescued her.’ 

They have two homes: one in Highbury, North London, and a bolthole on the Suffolk coast where he ruffled feathers by saying he contemplated ‘murdering’ a neighbour’s noisy cockerel. The couple have a daughter and two sons in their teens – and a cockapoo, Sam.

EDUCATION: The private Cheadle Hulme School, Stockport (having been born in Macclesfield) and then University College, Oxford, where (like so many Westminster wonks) he read philosophy, politics and economics. 

JOB TITLE: Today presenter. 

NICKNAME: Blue Robbo – because he was president of the Oxford University Conservative Association.

SALARY: According to the BBC’s ‘on-air talent’ list: £295,000 to £299,999.

CAREER: First job was at Procter and Gamble, where he was asked to market nappies. ‘I could have been the brand manager for Pampers nappies!’ Joined the BBC in 1986 and worked on many programmes, including as Deputy Editor of Panorama. Poached by ITV to be Political Editor – then returned to the BBC in 2005. 

HINTERLAND: Scant hobby-time for this self-confessed ‘political junkie’ but a Manchester United superfan and enjoys classical concerts at Snape Maltings in Suffolk. 

APPEARANCE: All-man – with female colleagues complaining about his ‘mansplaining habits’. Has recently adopted a folksy interviewing technique with anyone from north of Stevenage, redolent of his broadcasting hero Brian Redhead. 

Although he was also branded ‘f****g pillock’ by Labour’s John Prescott, when as a BBC political reporter he failed to put sun cream on his bald head during a trip to sunny Washington DC.

Joining the BBC in 1986 he was mentored by Brian Redhead, co-presenter of the Today programme on BBC Radio 4 for 18 years, whose son Will had been killed in the VW Beetle explosion that Robinson had survived in 1982. 

Boris and Nick went to the same university but that’s where many of similarities end, with Mr Robinson coming from a middle class family in Macclesfield while Mr Johnson hails from the very upper-crust of British society.

Robinson’s translator mother was the child of German Jews and she was brought up in the Far East. She came to England to get married to Robinson’s father, a sales director for a metal firm. 

He went to the private Cheadle Hulme School in Stockport and then University College, Oxford, where like so many in Westminster, read philosophy, politics and economics – for many years the choice of course for legions of MPs and their aides. 

His first job was at Procter and Gamble, where he was asked to market nappies, before joining the BBC in 1986. He worked on many programmes, including as Deputy Editor of Panorama. Poached by ITV to be Political Editor – then returned to the BBC in 2005 to be Political Editor. 

But it was always his ambition to present the Today Programme, like his mentor Brian Redhead, joining the show in 2015 where he is paid around £300,000-a-year.

Yesterday Robinson and Johnson  faced each other on the radio for the first time in two years and it led to an extraordinary confrontation broadcast live yesterday when he ordered the Prime Minister to ‘stop talking’ and asking him to answer his questions.

In a tense exchange which triggered a furious backlash from Tory MPs, the presenter also told Boris Johnson ‘you are going to pause’ as the pair repeatedly talked over each other on BBC Radio 4’s Today.

The clash, during Mr Johnson’s first appearance on the programme in two years, came amid growing tensions between the BBC and the Government over impartiality and the licence fee.

MPs said the interview was ‘downright rude’ and ‘slapstick’, while co-chairman of the party, Oliver Dowden, said politicians ‘have the right to finish a sentence’.

It came a day after the new culture secretary, Nadine Dorries, warned the BBC may not exist in a decade and criticised its ‘elitist’ and ‘snobbish’ approach.

Mr Robinson pointedly began his Today interview by saying it was the first time the Prime Minister had ‘agreed to talk to us’ in two years.

Later, as Mr Johnson spoke at length about the shortage of lorry drivers, Mr Robinson attempted to interject but the Prime Minister persisted.

He said: ‘Prime Minister you are going to pause. Prime Minister stop talking.’

Mr Robinson added: ‘We are going to have questions and answers, not where you merely talk, if you wouldn’t mind.’

Boris Johnson

Nick Robinson

Boris Johnson and Nick Robinson (both seen at the Tory conference in Manchester) got into a heated exchange on the Today programme where Robinson told him to ‘stop talking’ and answer questions

At the end of the interview Mr Johnson told the presenter: ‘It’s very kind of you to let me talk… I thought that was the point of inviting me on your show.’

Shortly after the interview, Mr Robinson acknowledged some listeners ‘may have just been slightly offended by me telling the Prime Minister to stop talking….the truth is he’s a great communicator [but] he’s not a man who loves the cut and thrust of a question and answer always though is he’.

It is understood that Mr Robinson has not been rebuked by bosses for his approach.

In recent days though there has been signs of tensions between the BBC and Johnson. On Sunday, Andrew Marr told Mr Johnson that he had ‘said something that isn’t true’ about wages.

Co-chairman of the party Oliver Dowden told a fringe event at the Tory Party conference: ‘It’s right that politicians are scrutinised and held to account. I think sometimes politicians do have the right to finish a sentence when they’re answering a question.’

He added: ‘I am saying as a general point, I can understand the Prime Minister’s frustration not being able to finish a sentence.’

An unnamed senior minister described Mr Robinson’s intervention as ‘unforgivably disrespectful’ adding: ‘I wouldn’t talk to my three-year-old like that.’

A comparison between the treatment of Mr Johnson on the Today programme and that of Labour leader Keir Starmer would appear to suggest that Mr Starmer got an easier ride.

Mr Starmer was asked 16 questions and interrupted nine times. Mr Johnson faced 22 interruptions during 15 questions. 

In 2019 Mr Robinson likened the behaviour of Boris Johnson to a ‘dictator’ for broadcasting directly to the public on social media.

The former BBC political editor, currently a host of Radio 4’s Today programme, called the Prime Minister’s social media use a ‘form of propaganda’ and said it was undemocratic to avoid proper scrutiny by journalists.

Mr Robinson made the comments at the Cheltenham Literature Festival – where he also warned against presenters such as himself voicing their opinions.

Journalist Nick Robinson previously likened the behaviour of Boris Johnson to a 'dictator' for broadcasting directly to the public on social media

Robinson called the Prime Minister's social media use a 'form of propaganda' and said it was undemocratic to avoid proper scrutiny by journalists

Journalist Nick Robinson previously likened the behaviour of Boris Johnson to a ‘dictator’ for broadcasting directly to the public on social media rather than via the press

He said: ‘There is no doubt that all politicians know that they can broadcast directly using social media. Johnson regularly does videos on Facebook and regularly does videos on Twitter.

‘And he has the great joy on Facebook of calling it the People’s PMQs which largely consists of his aides picking questions that they want him to answer. 

‘There’s no capacity for anybody to say, ‘What did you mean about that?’ or ‘Hold on a second’ and so that’s democracy.’ 

He added: ‘It ain’t democracy, it is a form of propaganda used by dictators down the ages.’

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk