The Moral Maze

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The Moral Maze
Genre Individual cross examinations of successive witnesses by a group of panellists on live radio
Running time 45 mins (Wednesdays 20.00)
Country UK
Language(s) English
Home station BBC Radio 4
Host(s) Michael Buerk
Creator(s) Rev Ernie Rea
Producer(s) Phil Pegum (BBC Religion & Ethics)
Recording studio BBC Manchester
Air dates since 20 August 1990
Website Website

The Moral Maze is a radio programme on BBC Radio 4, broadcast since 1990.


Four regular panellists discuss moral and ethical issues relating to a recent news story. Michael Buerk delivers a preamble launching the topic, then introduces the first witness. The debate is often combative and guest witnesses may be cross-examined aggressively. The programme is hosted by Michael Buerk. The format is loosely based on the Select Committee procedure in the House of Commons, in which invited guests on a particular topic of discussion are mercilessly grilled (often to the point of humiliation) by a regular (and carefully chosen) panel (such as the MPs on the Select Committee).

Originally produced at the BBC North West's New Broadcasting House on Oxford Road in Manchester, it is now broadcast from Salford Quays. It was one of the few main Radio 4 programmes not to be available as a podcast until November 2011.


The regular panellists are:

The panellists mainly group themselves into two camps of either a pro-liberal viewpoint or a more traditional one. Many of the discussions revolve around whether newly adopted liberal values are eroding more traditional values.

Notable former panellists include Rabbi Hugo Gryn (he died in August 1996), Janet Daley, Edward Pearce, Geoffrey Robertson, politician Michael Gove, Ian Hargreaves, scientist Steven Rose, philosophers Simon Blackburn and Roger Scruton and historian David Starkey.


The first programme on Monday 20 August 1990 was forty minutes long from 11am, and followed by Poetry Please. It was made by the Factual Unit of Religious Programmes (later called Factual Programmes Religion) at BBC North in Manchester. It was hoped that the programme format would involve the panellists' views being revised during the course of a programme, but the reverse often would be the consequence.

In April 1991 it had moved to Tuesdays, and followed the 9.00 news, until 9.45 (a slot similar to the current In Our Time). In July 1991, it had moved to 20.05-20.50 on Fridays, replacing Any Questions? for the summer recess. There was then a repeat at 13.00 on the following Saturday, and a phone-in from 14.00-14.30, replacing Any Answers?. There was also an end-of-year programme. In July 1992 it had moved to Thursday mornings following the 9am news. It became a de rigueur listen for Westminster MPs. By 1997 it was fifty-five minutes long, lasting until 10am. It moved to Wednesday evenings from 13 May 1998 in the 1998 schedule changes, with a repeat of the forty-five minute programme on Saturday night at 22.15.

Michael Buerk has presented the programme since August 1990. David Aaronovitch presents occasional episodes during Buerk's absence.

TV pilot[edit]

In early 1994 a television version was considered, which eventually took off on Saturday 10 September 1994 on BBC2. It was a trial series of six 45-minute-long programmes broadcast around midnight. It had audiences of around 1.3 million. It last broadcast on 15 October 1994 at 23.00.

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