Media: Des Lynam was just the start. To ITV's head of sport, the whole BBC is fair game

Not only did ITV sports supremo Brian Barwick defect from the BBC, he went on to poach Des Lynam. Now he is in on a mission to relieve his ex-team mates of another valuable asset - Match of the Day

The first thing I wanted to ask ITV's head of sport Brian Barwick was not how he lured Des Lynam away from the BBC - though he did tell me. It was how ITV's sports presenter and former Arsenal goalkeeper Bob Wilson took the news.

"Yes, it was hard to break that to Bob Wilson," Barwick admits. "He is a human being. I did it face to face on the Monday morning we announced Des was coming. Bob was hurt, and I can fully understand that, but over a number of weeks he has bounced back. It was a difficult conversation to have, but I was determined to have it, as I care for the bloke."

Wilson is in fact now presenting a Champions League highlights programme while Lynam hosts the live games. But the way Barwick set up and handled the change-over gives a clue to the style of the man who is rapidly becoming the key player in television sport.

He revels in the cloak and dagger nature of arranging a top signing (journeys down to Lynam's seaside home and walks along the sand at Worthing, as he reminded him how little live soccer the BBC now had). A sense of drama and a love of news from his early newspaper training meant he enjoyed the secrecy of the operation and told no one, including Wilson, until minutes before the official announcement.

But he also "cares for the bloke." The ruddy faced, ginger moustached Barwick is a tremendously affable and straight-talking man, and part of his spectacular success at ITV - getting Des Lynam, the Rugby World Cup, the England v Argentina world cup game and of course the Champions League - lies in his friendships and contacts, most of which were made, it has to be said, in the 18 years that he worked for BBC sport, editing Match Of the Day and producing BBC Sports Personality of the Year.

"You've got to have tenacity," Barwick says. "There's a lot of networking done in this game."

That must rankle at the corporation. And it is about to rankle a lot more. For Barwick now wants to pinch his old programme Match of the Day. How could he do it, they must be thinking, a man who was BBC through and through. It was Barwick and Lynam who put their heads together and decided Nessun Dorma would be a good theme tune for Italia 90. No, they were told, Pavarotti would never agree. "It's not in keeping" said the man from Decca, who was later over-ruled, but whom Barwick still likens to the bloke who turned down The Beatles. Yes, Barwick was a BBC animal. He even did an impression of the late rugby commentator Eddie Waring at his job interview nearly 20 years ago.

This is the one subject that brings a blush to the bulky figure of Barwick. Not only did he do Eddie at his interview; he was in his younger days a member of the Eddie Waring Appreciation Society, a hero-worshipping group of fans featured on the now defunct BBC Nationwide programme. A tape still exists at Broadcasting House, much to Barwick's embarrasssment. "I told them I do the best Eddie Waring impression in Great Britain," he recalls. "I said, if you do give me a second interview I will do it all in Eddie Waring."

Barwick grew up, the son of a tailor, in Liverpool and remains a fanatical supporter of Liverpool FC. He gritted his teeth as he said that a turning point in ITV's sports coverage was the live league winning title game in 1989, when Arsenal beat Liverpool at Anfield. "At Anfield," he wails, shaking his head. He went to Quarry Bank school, as did John Lennon; though Barwick describes it as "a working class Eton" - a description Lennon may not have relished. Politicians Peter Shore, Bill Rogers and comedian Les Dennis also attended. He then went into newspapers, and he still reads them all before setting out for work - and spots the mistakes.

"Did you see Jim White in The Guardian said that Des has less time to speak on ITV? Totally wrong. He has more time. At the BBC football usually followed Eastenders, so there was very little time for preamble. At half time you'd show the goals from the premiership. And at the end you had to get off for the news. Des actually said to me after last week's Manchester United game: `That's the most time I've had in a football match.' But then Jim White works for the BBC, doesn't he?"

Barwick probably enjoys a good conspiracy theory, particularly if his old employers are involved. Certainly, he is loving the thought of plotting to relieve them of another incalculable sporting asset.

"I expect the BBC to fight tooth and nail to keep Match of the Day. It's part of their overall strategy, let alone sports strategy. But premier league rights will be coming up in the mix. We won't get every live game, but I do wonder whether there will be some live games available and whether we can move Match of the Day. We would show it earlier in the evening to get a bigger audience. We want a stakehold in the premier league."

Barwick can be scathing about how the BBC failed to hold on to great sporting events, and missed the boat in other ways. "It got into ice skating after Torvill and Dean and gymnastics after Korbutt." But then surely Barwick, who was there for 18 years until November 1997, must have seen what was going on and should have spoken out against it.

"I raised it again and again. But the moment things started getting wobbly a few people went missing in their support. I think it became a little embarrassing for them. People like to be associated with success." He didn't want to name names, but agreed the buck stops with the channel controllers and the director general.

When his own defection occurred two years ago, he was still very much a BBC man, but ITV director of programmes David Liddiment made him an offer he couldn't refuse. As well as being ITV controller of sport, he could start up and be director of programmes of ITV2, ITV's digital channel. It is an odd dual role, but starting a channel and being in charge of sport was not a combination he could dream of turning down.

ITV2 under Barwick is now nine months old and its main strength is what he calls "Catch-up television." Popular programmes from the main channel are shown at different times, or as Barwick puts it: "My wife can now watch Coronation Street at 10pm when the children have gone to bed." Sport is another big ingredient with 17 of the Rugby World Cup games on ITV2, almost as many as the 24 on ITV. Last weekend he also introduced live Italian soccer to ITV2. "You've got to be honest," says Barwick as few others in the digital programming world are, "it's modest at the moment, but the awareness is creeping up all the time." He chuckles to think of the 26m who watched Manchester United win the Champions League, contrasting it with viewing figures for some ITV 2 programmes. "I suppose I've been responsible for ITV's biggest audience in its history, and the smallest."

Which programme is he thinking of? "Take any programme on ITV2."

It doesn't really bother him. While he is relishing his responsibility for ITV2, it is his contact with sporting legends and signing some of them, that continues to gives him the most intense pleasure in his job. On the wall of his office is a framed signed Brazilian shirt from Pele.

"He's got one of mine on his wall," jokes Barwick, before musing, like the good Liverpudlian he is, with a linguistic flourish: "The most fun I've had is touching the ermine of the cloak of fame - and I've had a good laugh."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
    How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

    How to make your own Easter egg

    Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

    Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

    Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

    Cricket World Cup 2015

    Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
    The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing