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MANDRAKE: BBC denies external pressure over Dominic Cummings documentary

Number 10 special advisor Dominic Cummings walks in Downing Street. (Photograph: TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images). - Credit: AFP via Getty Images

TIM WALKER wonders why some revelations about Boris Johnson’s key adviser Dominic Cummings were dropped by the BBC.

Chief Adviser to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Dominic Cummings at a news conference inside 10 Downing Street, London, after the latest COBRA meeting to discuss the government’s response to coronavirus crisis. Picture date: Monday March 16, 2020. See PA story HEALTH Coronavirus. Photo credit should read: Richard Pohle/The Times /PA Wire – Credit: PA

It was no great surprise that Dominic Cummings proved to be a harder nut for Emily Maitlis to crack than Prince Andrew, but Mandrake hears a great deal of her investigation into Boris Johnson’s chief adviser ended up on the cutting room floor.

‘A number of the people invited to talk about Cummings in the documentary were startled to see how little of what they’d said made it into the programme,’ one corporation toiler tells me of Taking Control: The Dominic Cummings Story, which was aired on BBC Two last week. ‘Emily telephoned a few of them to apologise as she had taken up a great deal of their time. It was clear to everyone that there was a lot of nervousness about the whole project.’

Cummings had declined to be interviewed by Maitlis but had subsequently taken what I am told was ‘a very close interest’ in the programme. It was more notable in many respects for what it didn’t say about Cummings than what it did: his period working in post-Soviet Russia from 1994 to 1997 went unmentioned. Last week the art critic James Beechey told me that Russia had been an obsession of Cummings when he had known him during his period working as Iain Duncan Smith’s director of strategy.

Maitlis declined to comment and a BBC spokesman insisted: ‘There was no external pressure and the best material made it into the programme. We report without fear or favour and stand by our journalism.’ The former Tory attorney general Dominic Grieve – featured briefly in the programme – was typically relaxed about the affair. ‘I haven’t actually seen it,’ he told me. ‘I only read the reviews.’

Boris Johnson’s team to tackle the coronavirus – Dominic Raab, Michael Gove, Matt Hancock and Rishi Sunak. (Photographs: PA/TNE) – Credit: Archant

The documentary has since been largely eclipsed by the disclosure in the Sunday Times by Tim Shipman – a journalist known to be close to Johnson – that at a private engagement at the end of February, Cummings’ view of the government’s coronavirus strategy was summarised as: ‘herd immunity, protect the economy, and if that means some pensioners die, too bad.’


Mandrake wonders if Boris Johnson has been entirely fair to Michael Gove in appointing him to his ‘C-19 squad,’ along with Matt Hancock, Dominic Raab and man of the hour Rishi Sunak.

‘Michael has been in a state of terror about coronavirus right from the outset,’ whispers an aide to the chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster. ‘He was among the first to start cancelling his public engagements and doing his constituency surgeries by telephone.’

One of Gove’s friends was quoted in the Times a few years ago as saying: ‘It’s widely known that Michael is a hypochondriac. It’s a standing joke that he is prone to confuse a mild bout of indigestion with a headache, which he would call a cardiac infarction.’


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