Sir David Frost calls upon Tony Hall to take a knife to BBC's management structure


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The Independent Culture

Having worked for the BBC for more than 50 years, Sir David Frost has advised the new Director-General Tony Hall that he must take a knife to the organisation’s debilitating management structure.

In an interview with The Independent, the distinguished presenter said that the BBC’s ability to operate efficiently was being hindered by an excess of executive level employees. He called upon Lord Hall to take the same tough stance as he had in 2001 on becoming chief executive of the Royal Opera House, which was then beset by claims of managerial failings.

“He has come back at just the right moment. I think that one thing that you talk to people about inside the BBC and outside the BBC and everybody seems to feel that there is one level at least of middle management that could be sacrificed and not replaced. There’s too much middle management at the BBC,” he said. “The interesting thing is that the middle management and possibly the higher management crisis at the BBC is very similar to the situation that the Royal Opera House was in when Tony arrived there. There were all those stories about rifts.”

Sir David, who came to prominence at the BBC presenting the groundbreaking satirical sketch show That Was The Week That Was in 1962, hosts a programme for BBC4 tonight examining the demise of that genre.

He said that Frost on Sketch Shows, which will include contributions from Stephen Fry, Catherine Tate and Michael Palin, will highlight British television’s failure to produce a successful sketch show in the past six years.

“Everybody tends to feel that there has been a dearth of sketch shows since really Little Britain came to an end in 2006 and The Catherine Tate Show in 2007. Since then a new sketch show hasn’t come along,” he said.

Sir David said that he had detected fear within the television industry that the lack of sketch shows was harming the emergence of new comedy stars. “The people in this field are very concerned because the other fantastically important thing is that the sketch show is a spring board for people to go into other forms of comedy,” he said. “Some have seen sketch shows as the birthplace of new half hour shows and they are very concerned that there will be a new wave of comedy coming in. The sketch show gives people a great opportunity to train and develop.”

In his programme, Sir David has explored the BBC archive for clips of the great sketch show performers from wartime radio show It’s That Man Again and Variety stars such as Ken “Daft as a Brush” Platt to the Two Ronnies, Morecambe and Wise and Bruce Forsyth.

He acknowledged that audience nostalgia for historic television was threatened by the wave of allegations against former entertainment stars, including Jimmy Savile and Stuart Hall. “It’s unbelievable,” he said. “Obviously any one of these terrible incidents where people were assaulted is one too many but I don’t know whether we are talking of something more widespread than the people who have been singled out so far. It’s that question between whether it is a small group of people or if it is wider.”

Speaking in the study of his London offices, surrounded by photographs taken with world leaders including Bill Clinton and Mikhail Gorbachev, Sir David also talked of his continuing plans for interviewing world figures for the Al Jazeera English network, for which he has worked since 2006. A new series of “The Frost Interview”, beginning in July, will see him speaking to spaceman Buzz Aldrin, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and racing driver Lewis Hamilton.

At 74, he retains his appetite – “as much as ever” - for such encounters. “I could never understand how people could want to retire,” he said. But there is one world leader at the top of his interview wish list: Robert Mugabe.

In a typical aside, he mentioned how the comedian Bob Monkhouse had alerted him to the fact that “Mugabe spelt backwards is e-ba-gum”.

Though Sir David spoke briefly with the Zimbabwean leader at a Commonwealth summit in 1991, he has never subjected him to the Frost treatment, with its mixture of easy charm and strategic interrogation. “He has lived longer as leader than anyone thought was possible,” he said.

‘Frost on Sketch Shows’ is on BBC Four at 9pm tonight