THE BLOG
08/10/2015 11:36 BST | Updated 07/10/2016 06:12 BST

Peston's Mistake: Don't Fall For Your Own Hype

I don't mean to sound harsh but Robert Peston is a Number Two. A quite brilliant Number Two, one of the best in the business. The sort of Number Two everyone wants by their side because he makes their job easier and them look better. But he's still a Number Two. Which is why his much-anticipated transfer to ITV will be a disaster.

After an absurd few weeks of 'will he, won't he' rumours (absurd principally because most of the country couldn't care less), it's been revealed today that the promise of his own political interview show on ITV has been enough to persuade the journalist that he's outgrown the BBC.

Perhaps he has. After all, there aren't many in the business who have become a brand, whose surname is enough to identify them, who grace newspaper front pages and even - this really is absurd - the fashion and style pages.

And that's the problem. Like so many who crave the top job above all else, he has been seduced by others' hype and his vanity. Worse, perhaps, is his belief - shared by all those who confuse ambition with success - that only the top job will do. That being the wing man is not enough, that it's demeaning to always be the session musician, that winning the Best Supporting Oscar is a bit meh.

The world is strewn with the scarred corpses of those who thought that 'Deputy' was a mere stepping stone rather than the singular achievement that it should be seen to be. The man or woman who makes things work, keeps it ticking along, gives their boss the edge and makes them appear more talented than

they are.

Peter Taylor's fatal mistake was not to realise Brian Clough was a champion because of his counsel - taking the top job at Derby County represented catastrophic hubris. Philip Clarke helped Terry Leahy turn Tesco into the High Street's dominant force but he didn't have the wherewithal to acknowledge he lacked the attributes to take the helm. The same is true of Gordon Brown - the sort of loner and bruiser with a Stakhanovite work ethic that Tony Blair needed but not a man who could inspire colleagues. I still think Alistair Cook was an unthreatening, clean-cut, anodyne deputy for Andrew Strauss - but a leader he aint. And the least said about Bruce Foxton's delusions of grandeur in thinking he was as important to The Jam as Paul Weller the better.

But why are deputies so often such failures? Why, when they have spent years planning their accession, do they invariably make such a hash of the top job?

Perhaps it's because they're engaged in a self-fulfilling prophesy, not quite appreciating that being Number Two is an achievement in itself. It's as if their insecurity at still having to crane their necks to look up rather than survey all before them is more powerful than the realisation that they're really rather good at what they do.

George Harrison, gifted though he was, knew that he was never a leader. He never wanted to be. Better to be part of something, Beatle or Wilbury, than front and centre. Did Ernie Wise consider the role of sidekick as anything other than what it really was - utterly integral to success? It's not about knowing your place but knowing what you're good at.

Not many people know who Thelma Ritter was but in Hollywood's post-war heyday she went toe-to-toe with Bette Davis, Burt Lancaster, Doris Day, Gene Tierney, Susan Hayward and Richard Widmark. One of the finest actors of her generation, she was never the star yet was nominated for a Supporting Oscar six times, though never won. She rather enjoyed being cinema's bridesmaid, knowing that that in itself was a rare achievement in an industry that elevated and discarded its leading talents with brutal haste.

There's nothing wrong with drive and ambition but there's also nothing wrong with playing second fiddle, if that's what you're good at. The mistake Peston is making is that he's forgotten that whilst people like Huw Edwards, Jim Naughtie and Kirsty Wark look like they're the ones running the show, he's the real talent.