Media: Jockeying for position at the BBC

He doesn't take over until April, but new DG Greg Dyke is already at work. By Jane Robins
Click to follow
The Independent Culture
WITHIN HOURS of his appointment as Director General of the BBC, Greg Dyke was sending out invitations to programme-makers, commissioners and managers across the BBC, inviting them to drinks.

"In all my time here, I have never met John Birt," says a BBC news insider, "but I'm getting to chat to Dyke straight away - it's a real change of culture already."

In fact, Sir John Birt hosted similar gatherings when he took up the top post - but that was seven years ago, since when he has rarely mixed socially with programme-makers.

"Greg's drinks," as they are known, signify a mood change at the BBC - and, say insiders, are characterised by BBC executives clustering around Dyke trying to catch his eye, with John Birt practically playing the wallflower. "Greg doesn't arrive formally until April," says one, "but it's clear that power has changed hands already."

Dyke has announced that he will "walk the floors of the BBC and listen to people," and the process has already begun. Its primary effect is to prompt a change of mood. After years of being subjected to endless structural change, strategy documents and policy meetings, Dyke's more instinctive approach seems like a breath of fresh air.

But the BBC is a political organisation - and the corridors of Television Centre are full of people trying to work out who will do well under Dyke and who might suffer - with attention focused on Tony Hall, the boss of BBC News, who was runner-up for the post of DG.

There appears to be no love lost between the "Hall camp" and the "Dyke camp" as a result of a tough, antagonistic selection process - and, if he stays, Hall will have to defend some controversial policies. He has presided over a costly move of the BBC news operation into the newly built Stage 6 of Television Centre, and has seen millions spent on the little- watched News 24 channel.

"Its easy to imagine more idiosyncratic characters doing well under a Dyke regime," says a news insider. Mark Damazer, the head of BBC Westminster, and Jenny Abramsky, the flamboyant Director of Radio, are both cited as "the sort of people Greg likes".

It is also said that Dyke would like to cut through the bureaucracy of the BBC, and restore power to programme-makers. That puts Patricia Hodgson, director of policy and planning, in the spotlight.

"Patricia was Birt's right-hand woman," says a colleague, "... and it's hard to imagine that Greg will want someone who spearheaded old strategies in charge of the new."

There is a good deal of wishful thinking around that Hodgson and her unpopular policy and planning department will face drastic cuts. But, realists point out, there is a 20,000-strong corporation to be run, with an ever-more complex remit, and strategists are needed. Hodgson's task is to convince Dyke of her willingness to adapt to a new regime.

Eyes are also on Peter Salmon, the Controller of an embattled BBC1, who is facing strong pressure to come up with an inspiring popular drama - an area of special interest to Dyke, who invested heavily in the genre when at ITV.

At programme level, there is already excitement at the prospect that Dyke will review the much-disliked "Production/Broadcast split", which requires programme-makers to "sell" their shows to the broadcast department. It has brought with it extra layers of bureaucracy, and a feeling of resentment on the production side.

Others complain that the way in which programmes are now commissioned by broadcast fails to take into account the consequences of decisions for production departments. "Erratic commissioning decisions can throw a production department into chaos. We need a degree of integration between commissioners and programme-makers," says a senior production insider.

Friends of Dyke say he is becoming totally immersed in the BBC at great speed, that his life has been transformed overnight. "He is considering a holiday during August and September," says one - after all, he is supposed to be taking over next April, not next week.

Comments