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Rippon's future in doubt over bullying row at ballet

The future of the broadcaster Angela Rippon as chairman of the English National Ballet was in doubt last night after her deputy accused her of bullying staff.

Insiders of the dance world claimed senior management and some members of the board at the company had become increasingly disenchanted with Ms Rippon, whose strident tone had caused widespread unhappiness.

Letters leaked yesterday suggested that matters had come to a head, with Denise Fiennes, the board's deputy chairman, suggesting that Ms Rippon should reconsider her intention to seek a second three-year term of office.

The letters said Ms Rippon had "caused distress" among staff, who were "intimidated because [her] manner has become increasingly stern ­ some have said strident and angry".

In response, Ms Rippon was quoted denying the charge: "It's not true that I've been intimidating people. They asked me to stay on with other duties. I don't think that would have been the case if they were unhappy."

Ms Rippon's agent, Sue Ayton, called the allegations "outrageous" last night.

"Angela has put her heart and soul and so much time into the ENB," she said. "The board has recognised all that she has done. She has been voted in for a second term ­ [these letters] sound like someone is disgruntled."

Staff confirmed that Ms Rippon's three-year term as chairman was due to end within the next few months, but the board managed only to muddy the waters by refusing to address the bullying charges or clarify arrangements for securing a new chairman.

In a statement, it said: "At a board meeting on 4 September 2003, the board of governors of the English National Ballet confirmed that Angela Rippon will continue as chairman of the board for the foreseeable future. The board recognises Angela's great contribution to English National Ballet and particularly her chairmanship of the last three years."

Even critics have praised the way Ms Rippon threw herself into supporting the company, with which she has been involved in various capacities for almost a decade.

She has been highly successful in unlocking vital sponsorship money with her enthusiastic approach. But her manner has been variously described as "schoolmistressy" and "imperious". She was said to have made a stream of suggestions to staff as to how things should be done ­ and left the strong impression that she expected her ideas to be acted upon.

The new allegations may also shed some light on the sudden departure earlier this year of the English National Ballet's managing director, Christopher Nourse.

The announcement that he intended to leave only two years after he was appointed from the Rambert Dance Company surprised ENB dancers and other members of the dance world, where Mr Nourse was highly regarded.

Few could understand why he had decided to quit what claims to be the world's leading touring classical ballet troupe with no alternative job to go to. He has not yet found a new post.

When contacted yesterday, he would only echo the words of the official statement that announced his departure: "When I unexpectedly left the English National Ballet four months ago, my departure was because my job as managing director had not turned out as I had anticipated." He refused to say anything more.

Ms Rippon's most famous connection with dance was when she stepped out from behind her desk as a BBC television newsreader to dance with Morecambe and Wise.

In recent years, she has been presenting an arts programme for LBC 97.3 radio station in London. During the Iraq conflict she was brought back to television to provide an authoritative voice for ITV's late-night bulletins.