BBC names first female channel boss

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THE BBC appointed the first woman to run a British television channel yesterday when it made Jane Root, who commissioned The Cops and Dinnerladies, is to be the new controller of BBC 2.

Currently the executive in charge of independently made programmes at the BBC, Ms Root, 41, is part of a new generation which is taking over television.

Ms Root started off in television in the early Eighties when she made a media programme for Channel 4 called Open The Box with another young producer called Michael Jackson. Mr Jackson was controller of BBC 2 himself until May last year. He is now chief executive of Channel 4 and will be Ms Root's main rival.

Ms Root joins female executives such as Jana Bennett, director of production and Jenny Abramski, director of radio, at the top of the BBC. She said yesterday: "It might have been an astonishing thing to happen 10 years ago when the BBC was very male at the top, but now there are plenty of smart women around in senior positions.

"I am so excited to get the job that I'm not sure the fact I'm a woman is that important."

Just under 30 per cent of the BBC's senior executives are women, according to the BBC's annual report. Lower down the scale the proportion is slightly better: 33 per cent of its senior managers are women and 36 per cent of their middle managers and "senior professionals".

The BBC 2 top job has been seen as the proving ground for the BBC's most senior executives. Ms Root replaces Mark Thompson, who has been promoted to director of regions and nations, which is widely seen as putting him in position to bid for the role of director-general when Sir John Birt steps down in 2000.

"The good things is that BBC 2 is in such fantastic shape," Ms Root said yesterday. "The scary thing is that I've got to keep it fantastic. It would be a madwoman who said `let's get rid of everything'. If you look at the top 10 ratings successes on BBC 2 you have programmes to be proud of like Goodness Gracious Me, I'm Alan Partridge, Naked and Cops. Not all channels are so proud of their ratings successes.

"I'm looking for clues to the next generation of programming rather than looking for specific new genres to plug gaps."

Ms Root has a strong production background, thanks to her years working in the world of independent production. Her company, Wall to Wall, made programmes such as The Media Show, which was presented by Muriel Grey, the drama Plotlands and the series on infants, Baby It's You.

Her first task when arriving at the BBC in 1997 was to persuade Tony Garnett's production company to make a third series of the cult hit This Life. When a third series could not be made to work, she instead had him make the drama The Cops which has been a ratings and critical success for BBC 2 on Monday nights.

Ms Root is part of a new generation that is taking control of the BBC and includes Peter Salmon, controller of BBC 1, and David Docherty, deputy director of television who all worked together in the Eighties and early Nineties.

Ms Root will report to Alan Yentob, director of television and a one- time controller of BBC 2 himself.

Top women at the BBC

Jana Bennett, director of production

Thought to have been in the running for the BBC 2 job, Jana Bennett is responsible for running one of the world's biggest television production companies, the bit of the BBC that makes programmes.

Jenny Abramski, director of radio

After a long career in BBC radio Jenny Abramski earned plaudits for successfully setting up Radio 5 Live as a rolling news and sport station. Before her promotion to takeover Matthew Bannister's job as director of radio, she set up News 24, the BBC's digital 24-hour news channel.

Patricia Hodgson, director of policy and planning

This job is central to the running of an organisation as large as the BBC and Patricia Hodgson has a seat on the executive committee which runs the entire corporation.

Sue Farr, marketing and communications director

Sue Farr has been responsible for the advertising campaigns and public relations of the broadcast arm, which includes the TV channels and the radio stations.