BBC governors go to war over successor to Birt

Click to follow
The Independent Online
THE BBC'S governors are locked into bad-tempered bickering and are ganging up against the chairman, Sir Christopher Bland, over who should become director-general when Sir John Birt retires next year, according to corporation insiders.

The governors have a month left to appoint a director-general, and have become fixated by reports that Sir Christopher favours Greg Dyke, boss of Pearson Television, over internal candidates such as Tony Hall, head of news and current affairs, and Alan Yentob, director of television.

"In the old days, when Duke Hussey was chairman, the governors were a malleable bunch who usually did what they were told," said a insider. "But the quality of the governors has improved immensely since then. They are now a self-confident lot who don't like being bossed around by the chairman."

He pointed to the difference in management style between Sir Christopher, who "has a strong, sometimes abrasive personality and is known to shout in the office", and that of his new vice-chairman, the Labour peer Baroness Young. "Barbara Young is more collegiate, and tends to get the rest of the governors on her side."

Lady Young has not spoken publicly about whom she favours for the BBC's top job, but corporation managers suggest that she is at odds with the chairman. Moreover, she is unlikely to be pleased by a prominent theory that she was appointed as a "low key" person who would ease the appointment of a more politically controversial director-general such as Mr Dyke, who is perhaps best remembered for bringing Roland Rat to breakfast television viewers. Mr Dyke has been caught up in a row over a pounds 50,000 contribution to the Labour Party.

The governors last week ended the "headhunter stage" of their search for a new DG, which has included approaches to people as widely dispersed as Roger Graef, the television producer, and Howard Stringer, the boss of Sony America's pounds 52bn business.

The next step is expected to focus on a narrower selection of finalists, with favourites such as Mr Hall, Mr Yentob and Mr Dyke likely to make a shortlist. They will be interviewed by a sub-committee of governors, which will include Sir Christopher and Lady Young, and is likely to have a financial expert, such as the businessman Sir David Scholey, and a regional representative, such as Sir Kenneth Bloomfield fromNorthern Ireland.

The finalists will eventually face the full board of governors, which is, say insiders, "a huge change" from the boards of old which were full of "mediocrities, has-beens and representatives from the dignified bit of the constitution". Recently appointed governors include Pauline Neville- Jones, the Foreign Office official, and Heather Rabbatts, the chief executive of Lambeth Council.

The Decision-Makers

Christopher Bland

The chairman of the BBC governors is said to favour Greg Dyke. Bland has a big personality, and a temper to match. His chairmanship of London Weekend Television in 1983 makes him part of the "LWT mafia" which includes Sir John Birt and Peter Mandelson.

Barbara Young

The vice-chairman of the BBC governors is a Labour peer renowned for her "niceness". She is chairman of English Nature, and was formerly chief executive of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. Her "inclusive" style contrasts with her predecessor.

Kenneth Bloomfield

Sir Kenneth is regarded as "the model BBC governor", being meticulous, bright and genuinely interested in broadcasting. He represents Northern Ireland on the board, and is a former head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service. He is due to retire at the end of July.

David Scholey

Sir David knows lots about finance, being a senior adviser to SBC Warburg Dillon and a director of Sainsburys. He is interested in the arts and is a trustee of the National Portrait Gallery and Glyndebourne Arts Trust. He is said to be a match for Sir Christopher.

Comments