SHOULD Andrew Marr have asked the prime minister about his eyesight and whether he is taking painkilling drugs, on TV on Sunday? Marr is one of the BBC's most experienced and respected political interviewers and commentators.

It is unlikely that he put the questions on the spur of the moment -- indeed he mentioned rumours “flying round the Whitehall village”. The BBC has said his questioning was within the guidelines for this kind of interview. But it left an unpleasant taste and clearly riled Mr Brown who said it was “the sort of question that is all too often entering the lexicon of British politics.” Tony Blair put it more bluntly when in his final remarks as prime minister he spoke of the “feral political press”.

Gordon Brown denied the pills allegation and was open about the state of his eyesight. He had been asked a question about his health while in the United States last week and answered it robustly. But the former Labour Home Secretary Charles Clarke said last week that Mr Brown might decide to quit and use his eyesight as the reason. It has to remembered that Winston Churchill's serious ill-health was hidden from the public in the 1950s and to this day we do not know why Harold Wilson resigned so abruptly. Downing Street would have been better advised to issue a strong written statement on the “Whitehall village” rumours before exposing the prime minister to awkward questions on TV.