And finally, you're all BBC pygmies

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A BBC TV news-reader signed off last night by describing the Corporation's bosses as "pygmies in grey suits wearing blindfolds", write Vanessa Thorpe and Chris Blackhurst.

Veteran broadcaster Alan Towers shocked viewers of BBC's Midlands Today into sitting up straight when he closed the 5.25pm news and sports bulletin.

In a scene mimicking the 1976 movie Network in which Peter Finch's stressed- out anchorman Howard Beale vents his spleen on a stunned nation, Towers looked straight into the camera and said: "After 25 years I'm leaving the BBC. When I joined it was led by giants. Now it's led by pygmies in grey suits wearing blindfolds, how's that?"

The outburst took producers off guard because the broadcast was not scheduled to be Towers' last. One observer said: "Alan headed for the exit as soon as the titles had come up. He clearly had planned it. He left the building without talking to the producer."

The BBC's Director of Corporate Affairs, Colin Browne, said lasts night: "It is sad that somebody should end their career on such a note. It is just one of those things. People in his kind of position are of course in a unique position to say what they want when they want.

"It's disappointing that he should leave in such an unprofessional way. Nobody outside the Midlands has ever heard of him until now. He had been working part-time for some time. He was a good local news-reader who had come to the end of his career - that's it."

After the incident the switchboard at the BBC's Pebble Mill studios was jammed. "We have had hundreds of calls in the last couple of hours, mainly agreeing with Alan, although some have been complaining," said one BBC employee.

In 1993 disc jockey Dave Lee Travis left Radio One under similar circumstances. Travis, who had worked for the BBC for 26 years, stopped the music to tell viewers: "Changes are being made here which are against my principles and I just cannot agree with them. The only option is, very regrettably, for me to leave."

The BBC asked him to leave before his contract came to an end saying he was in clear breach of its terms.