BBC News isn’t supposed to be enjoyable. Unlike its cable news equivalents in the United States, the BBC doesn’t see the need to pull in viewers and ad money with Inception-rivaling graphics displays or overly charismatic anchors who wind up in partial control of the head of state.
That’s why Simon McCoy was unusual. As a BBC News presenter, his theatrical grumpiness and telling-it-like-it-is attitude saw him become the channel’s most reliably viral host. His antics—ranging from holding up a wad of paper instead of a new-fangled iPad, complaining about the weak puns that he’d been asked to read aloud, and his signature weariness about royal baby news—saw him rise to be a twee Twitter sensation.
— Scott Bryan (@scottygb) March 25, 2021
But that came to a crashing halt Thursday, when McCoy announced he was leaving the BBC after 17 years to join GB News. For the uninitiated, GB News is a soon-to-launch network created by a veteran of the Murdoch empire and Britain’s most-feared interviewer Andrew Neil, who has promised that his channel will be a new home for those “left out and unheard” by the “increasingly woke” media establishment.
If that sounds familiar, you’re not the first to think so. The network is widely expected to become Fox News’ weird little English cousin. As The Guardian columnist Marina Hyde put it in a recent piece: “Imagine being the country that has watched the last four years unfold in the U.S., with its bloodlines so easily traceable to the Fox sensibility, and is nonetheless thinking: let’s have a bit of that. Because that’s us, of course.”
But what happens when the “increasingly woke” people who have projected McCoy to late-career stardom on Twitter see their guy join a network apparently set up specifically to annoy them? Well, they start to think that maybe he’s not just the funny little man from the news after all.
The initial announcement, which merely said that McCoy was leaving the BBC without naming his destination, was met with a wave of adulation and a mass-sharing of all his zaniest moments over the years. Then GB News confirmed he was coming on board, and adulation turned into allegations that McCoy had performed the ultimate milkshake duck.
When he said this on the BBC News Channel in the closing moments of 2020 pic.twitter.com/XLTgmTX9Vc
— Scott Bryan (@scottygb) March 25, 2021
Scott Bryan, a TV critic and broadcaster who’s documented a lot of McCoy’s shenanigans in ridiculously viral videos, told The Daily Beast that McCoy’s charm has always been in the fact that, most of the time, he’s a straight-laced, traditional British news broadcaster who’s “informative, fact driven, understated” and rarely breaks his authoritative character.
“So, when he comes out with a perfect zinger or unexpected burn at the end of a news report, it takes everyone by surprise,” said Bryan. “He goes viral here because the way he acts is the exact opposite of what every other news broadcaster is like... Whilst in the U.S. news presenters are very personality-led, here typically they aren’t. However, that’s all now changing with the rise of Piers Morgan on British TV and the launch of GB News.”
It remains to be seen what kind of role McCoy will take on. Just as Fox News still employs a dwindling number of credible journalists who provide suitable cover for the more famous nutcases, McCoy could retain his BBC-style impartiality and give GB News a veneer of respectability.
But many BBC reporters, especially those who have been there for decades, are practically bursting at the seams to share their pent-up opinions, so it’s not at all unimaginable that McCoy could embrace the right-leaning, anti-woke founding mission of his new broadcasting home.
So far, the channel’s hiring has ranged from respected broadcast journalists to some of British Twitter’s ratioed contrarians. GB News chairman Neil has denied that he’s merely attempting to set up Fox News with “a British accent,” but it’s not hard to see why comparisons are being made. Neil promised to cover stories from the “center, perhaps the center right,” and seems to have an unhealthy obsession with “woke warriors.”
So where does that leave the wholesomely grumpy McCoy?
Bryan said it depends on what role he takes up at GB News, but his employer could make some reluctant to give him the time of day. “A challenge is whether people on social media will be bothered to share, if they already think that the channel comes with a particular agenda,” said the TV critic. If it ends up chasing “angry shares” like other opinion-based networks, Bryan said, then it may backfire: “Sometimes it works, but a lot of the time it doesn’t, because people don’t take the bait.”
It’s now up to McCoy and GB News to decide whether to carry on his lovable persona and continue to bask in a warm viral glow—or try out U.S.-style entertainment news with a British twist. But, as a cautionary tale, he need look no further than Piers Morgan, who was last seen in a viral clip storming out of his own studio muttering about Meghan Markle.
The problem is, if McCoy chooses to become just another opinion-leaking right-wing bore, then where’s the fun in going off-script?