I have always had slightly mixed feelings about Andrew Marr. On a personal level, I have no hesitation in saying he is one of the most generous-sprited and courteous men I have met in political journalism. Unlike many of his senior Lobby colleagues, he never adopted a loftier-than-thou approach to those of us on the lower rungs of the profession and would always pass the time of day with anyone who happened to coincide with him in the Press Bar.
On a professional level, though, I always believed he was slightly too close to New Labour for comfort in the job of BBC political editor. Never was this more exemplified than when, on the day of Dr David Kelly's death, he informed us that Alastair Campbell was basically a decent bloke who would be as devastated as anyone by the tragedy, when a more detached and sceptical reporter might have posed some of the key questions that Campbell would now have to answer about how Dr Kelly's name had been leaked.
So I believe Marr made the right call in leaving that particular job to move on to more general presenting, and this was amply borne-out by his History of Modern Britain which concluded on BBC2 last night. It is sometimes said that journalism is merely a rough first draft of history, but this was as authoritative an account of contemporary British life as we are likely to get from any professional historian.
Sure, there were omissions, probably due to the need to condense fifty years into five hours. The Callaghan premiership, which delivered two years of stable and enlightened government from 1976-78 before the chaos of the Winter of Discontent, was virtually ignored. And the impact of New Labour on the countryside, including foot and mouth, the fox-hunting ban and the destruction of the green belt, merited not a mention. But on the whole, this was a tour-de-force which showed that Marr has finally found his niche.
The programme which, in my view, defined the series, was last week's one on Margaret Thatcher, concluding that, for good or ill, "we are all Thatcher's children now." I still can't really forgive Thatcher for the destruction of the deep-mining industry, for desecrating the once-thriving pit villages that formed the backdrop to my early career in journalism around Mansfield, Notts. But from an objective standpoint, I do recognise that, alongside Tim Berners-Lee, she is chiefly responsible for the way we live now.
And this, in turn, demonstrates that Tony Blair, the main subject of last night's final programmme, was not in the first rank of Prime Ministers in the sense that Thatcher was - a fact that Marr, for all his previous closeness to New Labour, seemed to acknowledge when he showed an ironical clip of himself telling the nation that Blair had become "a bigger man" as a result of the Iraq invasion and the toppling of Saddam. In fact he became a much diminshed one - but in his tacit acceptance that even the best reporters sometimes get it wrong, Marr became a "bigger man" himself.