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Andrew Marr, presenter of The Talk Show.

TUESDAY 5th March 2002
The appointment by BBC News of a new Political Editor in May 2000 heralded the emergence of a striking Westminster personality onto our screens.

With his distinctive silhouette, porcelain features and unwavering gaze, Andrew Marr cuts a dash when he faces the camera from the pavement outside Number 10.

And his on-air musings are as memorable as his appearance. When Peter Mandelson left the Government last year for the second time, Marr stood in Downing Street and called the debacle "a domestic".

When Tony Blair claimed support "in principle" for TV debates, Marr described the Prime Minister's attitude as "the sort of principle which means a debate will never happen".

Suddenly a political reporter was using words that viewers could understand. The political world was overnight an accessible one, and the new man on the correspondents' block had made his mark.

But Andrew Marr's appointment is no genuflection to the cult of personality over true Westminster wisdom. The veteran reporter has spent more than twenty years at the political desk and, if his impartiality was initially questioned, his grasp of the facts has never been.

Glasgow-born, Fife-educated, Cambridge-graduated Marr cut his reporting teeth on the Scotsman in 1981. As a political specialist in 1992, he moved from the Economist to the Independent, where he was named Columnist of the Year at the 1995 British Press Awards.

The following year, Marr took the editor's chair at the same newspaper. But his strong opinions have ever since spawned a backlash.

His crisp celtic tones have softened over the years, but Marr remains famously Scottish in print. Two of Marr's three published tomes are The Battle for Scotland and The Day Britain Died. A confirmed devolutionist, he has written of his pride in the Scottish Parliament.

Despite his avowal that he remains "in the end, a British man", he has offended many Anglophiles. They have retorted, in no uncertain terms, that if Marr's turf north of the border is so hallowed, perhaps he should return there.

In addition, despite the removal of a beard that, by his own account, "made him look like Lenin", Marr is equally well established as fully paid-up, done-and-dusted Left-leaner. Despite flirtations with other political parties, for years in print, he has faced accusations of being "Tony's glove puppet", and made no secret of his enthusiasm for New Labour.

On his arrival at the BBC, Marr vowed to give up "violent and eccentric views", to "renounce punditry and go back to reporting". But cynics viewed his appointment as one more conduit for Blair apologists and, since his arrival on television, an army of detractors has been ready to pounce on the slightest sniff of partisan coverage.

So far, Marr has given this beady-eyed band little ammunition. Instead, he claims to relish this professionally neutral phase of his career. He says, "You can express your own views for a number of years, but then you run out of things to say, and you need to replenish yourself with a spell of straight reporting."

And of his supposed favour with the Labour luvvies, he once explained, "The nearest I get to the new Labour in-crowd is on the fringes of one of David Frost's parties." At the time, Marr was being interviewed on Breakfast with Frost.

Away from the glowering gaze of the television watchdog, Marr can vent his political spleen in his newspaper column, now to be found in the more Conservative pages of the Daily Telegraph, full of stories about political conduct, that he considers "a pity not to use somewhere".

Andrew Marr loves words. He has chaired the panel of judges at the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction, and each year every person on his Christmas present list invariably receives a book. It is the only type of shop he will voluntarily enter.

He is harboured if not hampered by the limitations of the "two-way" interview on the national news. He must juggle politics with personality, and show off his neutrality and his niceness.

That Andrew Marr walks this highly-strung tightrope with such apparent ease and obvious enjoyment means that, despite his singular appearance and quotable comments, he will always defy caricature in favour of character.

Caroline Frost