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The Today programme’s Adam Shaw: tackling the UK’s ‘massive financial illiteracy’

Adam Shaw gets up at 3.30am every morning to present the business news on Radio 4’s Today programme. Last Thursday he extended his day to talk to students in Coventry University’s Coventry Conversations series.

“Being a journalist is an amazing job”, he told students, even if it means bowing to the whims of the man he calls “Today’s Interferer in Chief” – editor Ceri Thomas. A man who can rip up running orders and rip into items as the fancy or editorial judgement takes him, said Shaw. He told the audience that he sees himself as a translator, trying to do something about the “massive financial illiteracy in the UK”.

He defers, though, to the  grey beards of the BBC like Today presenter John Humphrys, whom he said wields a lot of power over how things are done and whether they are done at all. Likewise he praised the BBC’s business editor Robert Peston and his journalistic contacts and nous. According to Shaw, it was “rare for the BBC  to have scoops” BP (Before Preston).

Following an unsuccesful stint as an actor and some work experience with the BBC, Shaw got a job as an after care researcher for Esther Rantzen’s That’s Life. From there he joined Business Breakfast, because “the people who employed me thought my economics degree was useful”. In 1994 he moved on to the launch of the then revolutionary lunchtime business programme Working Lunch, presented by Adrian Chiles. The programme, made on a shoestring, was was the first programme after Newsnight to use big board graphics to explain things: “We messed up all the time but our viewers tolerated it”, Shaw said.

Shaw sat opposite Adrian Chiles on the set of Working Lunch for 14 years, but was replaced by Declan Curry a year before the programme was taken off air in 2009.

As a young actor, Shaw “was a spear-carrier, not Hamlet”, he told the audience. But it seems he will not end up a spear carrier on the TV stage if he can help it. As he gets to late middle age and the stage exit for presenters, he is looking to the future as a producer and making a twenty-part series for BBC World on world leaders and future trends.