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BBC the Big British Compromise

November 22, 2012

There has been a consensus since the hapless George Entwistle was assisted onto his sword point a couple of weeks ago that the BBC should appoint an outsider as the new DG. All senior insiders were, to some extent or other, either tainted by the events that brought poor George down, or had no editorial or creative credentials for the job. Also, the last insider to be unanimously elevated to the role by the BBC Trust – George himself – had not worked out too well…

Despite the Trust’s credentials to make a new appointment being tarnished, to say the least, they have done so anyway and gone for the classic Big British Compromise. Even they didn’t need expensive head hunters this time to draw up a list of execs outside the BBC who knew the organisation and had the editorial stripes required.

Top of the list (surely?) was Peter Fincham, a very successful producer forced out off the BBC by a ludicrously over-hyped row about the Queen being miserable over a programme trailer. Treason enough to be struck from the list? No, not for the liberal elite Trust – his real betrayal was to immediately go off and work for ITV.

Much more the Trust’s style is Lord Tony Hall. I’m sure he’s a nice guy and a reasonably competent manager, but bear with me while I indulge in one of those ‘everything’s connected’ anecdotes so annoyingly trotted out over here just now by Kevin Bacon in interminable TV ads for the egregiously expensive and stupidly named EE 4G service.

Hall – an independent Peer ennobled a couple of years ago for services to the Arts and charity – left the BBC after applying for DG when Greg Dyke was appointed. Ironically, Hall’s claim to fame at the BBC was as the father of its breakfast TV show, started specifically to sink TVam the commercial rival that Dyke came to fame for saving with Roland Rat. Dyke – a commercial producer who for many was the last creative DG – was forced out of the BBC in 2005 by its last big crisis; the elaborated ‘sexed up Weapons of Mass Destruction dossier’ report by Andrew Gilligan. Many would argue Dyke’s mistake then was not to firewall himself quickly enough by firing the incompetent BBC news managers who failed to prevent, or then uncover, what had gone on in their own department. Of course, Hall was long gone by then, but his last job at the BBC had been head of News and the people he had managed and promoted were left behind. A DG brought down by incompetent news department managers – ring any bells?

For much of the time since, Lord Hall has run the Royal Opera House which despite, to be fair, his best efforts has remained quite possibly the most elitist and expensive publically subsidised body on the planet. It is an institution to which a statistically irrelevant number of the British public have ever been, despite the fact we all help pay for it. But I bet a very large percentage of the BBC Trust members are regular attendees. I’m sure the Trust and the DG are determined we all get a much more satisfactory return from the licence fee.




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