Meet BBC’s ‘Mr Safe’: New political editor Chris Mason’s pals joke he’s been like a 50-year-old since he was a student, he once considered being a bus driver and still subscribes to his local Yorkshire paper
After months of speculation about who would replace Laura Kuenssberg, Chris Mason’s promotion from a host on Radio 4 to BBC political editor appears to have taken most people – including the born-and-raised Northerner himself – by almost total surprise.
And who could expect anything more from Mason, the straight-talking grammar school-educated ‘proud Yorkshireman’ from a working class background whose Cambridge friends have humorously called him ‘basically a 50-year-old man since he was a student’?
‘Cripes, thank you for the lovely messages. The news popped out while I was in a pub in Halifax, with no signal,’ Mason told his Twitter followers just earlier today, 24 hours after the big news broke that he would be taking on the biggest brief in British political journalism.
‘My phone did the can-can in the car park when I came out hasn’t stopped dancing since. The new job is an immense privilege & responsibility and I’ll give it everything’.
Mason was born at Airedale Hospital on April 21, 1980. Having a builder for a grandfather and schoolteachers for parents, the young Mason, who grew up in Grassington, North Yorkshire, briefly flirted with the dream of becoming a bus driver, before developing his insatiable appetite for news.
To this day, Mason makes sure that he gets every print copy of the local Craven Herald and Pioneer newspaper posted down to his south-east London home, where he now lives with his primary schoolteacher wife and their two sons.
‘It’s the perfect thing to kick back with, in the company of a cuppa, when I get home after Any Questions at the weekend’, he told Iain Dale on the LBC presenter’s All Talk podcast an interview released in July last year.
But where did Mason’s hunger for news come from? Even he can’t quite explain.
‘I don’t know where that passion for radio and news and politics and current affairs came from. There isn’t any journalistic or media heritage in the family. My parents are both primary school teachers, my grandad was a builder. I got a little white radio when I was seven and just got obsessed with it,’ Mason told Dale.
Chris Mason was born at Airedale Hospital on April 21, 1980. Having a builder for a grandfather and schoolteachers for parents, the young Mason, who grew up in Grassington, North Yorkshire, briefly flirted with the dream of becoming a bus driver, before developing his insatiable appetite for news
In a statement yesterday, the self-effacing Mason again emphasised how lucky he felt to have been given a front-row seat as the corporation’s political editor into Westminster life at such a febrile moment in British and global politics
To this day, Mason makes sure that he gets every print copy of the local Craven Herald and Pioneer newspaper posted down to his south-east London home, where he now lives with his primary schoolteacher wife and their two sons
However, he has revealed that as a child, he would watch ITN’s political editor Michael Brunson – one of his big influences in journalism. Mason would later described Sir Trevor McDonald, a legend in the British media landscape, as another inspiration.
Mason attended Ermysted’s Grammar School in Skipton before enrolling at Christ’s College at Cambridge, where he studied geography.
One friend who has known Mason since university told The Guardian: ‘He’s basically been a 50-year-old man since he was a student. But a genuinely lovely person and untouched by fame… Unlike some of his colleagues, I genuinely never hear a bad word about him.’
Mason attended Ermysted’s Grammar School in Skipton before enrolling at Christ’s College at Cambridge, where he studied geography
Mason began his journalism career as a trainee at ITN the week after 9/11, before moving to BBC Radio Newcastle one year later. He also then worked for 5 Live, the Regional Political Unit, the Westminster Hour on Radio 4 and in Brussels as a Europe correspondent.
Mason took over as presenter for Radio 4’s Any Questions?, a topical discussion with a panel of people from politics and media who are posed questions by the public, in October 2019, and is regularly on the podcast Newscast.
No profile of Mason is complete without a passing nod to the moment he went viral after a BBC Breakfast broadcast in 2018 after admitting he didn’t have the foggiest’ about ongoing Brexit negotiations.
Speaking outside the Houses of Parliament as Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union clogged up the worlds of politics and media, Mason gave a candid, refreshing assessment of the state of affairs.
‘So, where are we in this Brexit process? You know what? People like me are paid to have insight and foresight and hindsight about these things, and to be able to project where we’re going to go,’ he said.
‘To be quite honest, looking at things right now, I haven’t got the foggiest idea what is going to happen in the coming weeks. Is the Prime Minister going to get a deal with the EU? Dunno. Is she going to get it through the Commons? Don’t know about that either.
‘I think you might as well get Mr Blobby back on to offer his analysis, because frankly I suspect his is now as good as mine.’
In this day and age of equality and diversity, Mason’s strong Yorkshire accent will allow BBC bosses to keep Boris Johnson’s prowling Culture Secretary satisfied as the Government insists on more regional representation within the corporation’s ranks.
Certainly, Mason thinks his Yorkshire roots have benefitted him.
In the past, he has said his experience of growing up in the Yorkshire Dales had a ‘massive influence’ on him. This year he competed on Celebrity Mastermind where his specialist subject was the Yorkshire Dales, finishing second to comedian Rufus Hound.
But where did Mason’s hunger for news come from? Even he can’t quite explain
One friend who has known Mason since university told The Guardian: ‘He’s basically been a 50-year-old man since he was a student. But a genuinely lovely person and untouched by fame’
After spending two decades at the BBC, Mason, who is from Grassington in north Yorkshire, has spent most of his career covering Westminster (pictured at an anti-Brexit pro-Europe demonstration)
Kuenssberg’s successor Mason is regarded as an ‘adept broadcaster’ with ‘sound judgment’ and ‘a flair for political analysis’
And in an interview with the Radio Times, Mason mused: ‘I think it [his accent] has probably been an advantage to me because I have come of age journalistically in an era where there’s a far greater awareness that the BBC in particular, and broadcasting in general, needs to sound like the audience it’s broadcasting to.
‘I think there could be a far broader range of voices than we hear on the national media. When have you ever heard on a news programme somebody with a West Country accent? I can’t think of a single person, and that’s mad. How many people with a Brummie accent? Or a Geordie accent?
‘There’s hardly any. It’s absolutely absurd. We’re broadcasting to a country with this incredibly rich diversity of voices and accents, and we hardly hear any of them broadcasting on the national airwaves.’
How funny then, that he didn’t listen to the BBC’s primary news-driven station as a teenager because he found it ‘southern and quite posh and not me, really’.
But unlike many of his contemporaries at the broadcaster who have been accused of vaulting over the line between impartiality and partisan journalism (think Kuenssberg and Newsnight’s Emily Maitlis) Mason has been careful to keep his political views private.
Speaking with a Yorkshire accent, Mason’s appointment could combat criticisms of the broadcaster for being London-centric and not having enough regional voices
It is thought that his tact on this matter has made him such an attractive prospect to BBC bosses who searched long and hard for Kuenssberg’s replacement. As Dale remarked: ‘To this day I have no clue what his politics are, and that’s a great thing.’
Certainly, his contemporaries regard Mason as an ‘adept broadcaster’, with ‘sound judgment’ and ‘a flair for political analysis’. One PR expert told MailOnline he was a ‘bloody good journalist’, while reporters who praised him on social media described how he was known to be fair but tough.
Others said that he might not bring the broadcaster exclusives, but will be able to explain difficult political matters in a simple way for the BBC’s millions of readers and viewers.
In a statement yesterday, the self-effacing Mason again emphasised how lucky he felt to have been given a front-row seat as the corporation’s political editor into Westminster life at such a febrile moment in British and global politics.
‘What a tremendous privilege to take on what, for me, is the most extraordinary job in British broadcasting and journalism. I clamber upon the shoulders of giants like Laura, Nick [Robinson] and Andrew [Marr] with a smattering of trepidation and a shedload of excitement and enthusiasm,’ he exclaimed.
‘To lead the best team of journalists in the business on the best news patch of the lot is something I’d never even dared dream of. I can’t wait to get started.’
Only time will tell whether, with Mason at the helm, we can expect a break from the impartiality rows that plagued his predecessor.
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