Bluff patrician's 'no-nonsense' management

Marianne MacDonald profiles the outgoing BBC Chairman and his successor
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Marmaduke Hussey, 72, has said himself that he was amazed when, as he carried out an indeterminate and undemanding executive post at Times Newspapers, he got a telephone call from Douglas Hurd, the then Home Secretary, asking him to be chairman of the BBC.

It was September 1986; he had almost no experience of broadcasting and little idea what the job involved. "What about a brief?" he asked. "You'll find out when you get there," Hurd chuckled.

Hussey certainly did. He arrived amid a complacent bureaucracy, demoralised by poor leadership and sniping from the Thatcher government.

His solution was to fire the then director-general, Alasdair Milne. The move in 1987 earned him loathing from the staff - who blamed him, and still do, for the brutal manner in which he went about it.

It did not help when he announced in July 1991 that Milne's successor, Michael Checkland, would be replaced by his deputy, John Birt, in March 1993 - creating a 21-month vacuum at the top.

Hussey steam-rollered objections to Birt's appointment, and this annoyed staff too, after he became irresistibly associated with the cuts to the BBC.

Yet over the last two years, even Birt is said to have become fed up with him. Hussey ruffled his feathers by criticising the decision to screen John Major's Panorama interview, in Scotland, three days before the local elections.

He also observed in 1994 that the BBC had slipped from the moral high ground in its search for sensational news. Most irritatingly, he was among the BBC governors who criticised Birt last year, after discovering a two-year, pounds 55m redundancy programme had apparently left the corporation with more staff.

Hussey is a bowed giant who walks with difficulty following the amputation of his leg during the Second World War.

His wife, the former Lady Susan Waldegrave, is a lady-in-waiting to the Queen, which made his position rather sticky after the screening of that interview with the Princess of Wales - except Birt made it crystal clear that Hussey had not been told about the programme beforehand.

Mrs Hussey is also the sister of William Waldegrave, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, which gives her an entree to the highest political circles.

Hussey's manner is bluff and patrician, but despite his false modesty and his insistence that colleagues call him "Dukie" (most refuse on principle) insiders maintain that he conceals a mind of some brilliance. He is the only chairman of the BBC's governors - there have been 17 in its history - to have served a second term.

Winning player in the world of franchise deals


One thing seems certain: the appointment of Sir Christopher Bland will be viewed as good news by staff at the BBC, by John Birt, the director- general of the corporation, and by Tony Blair, the possible future prime minister.

The appointment was made by the Department of National Heritage, which looked throughout the second half of last year before settling on Sir Christopher, who had all along been a front-runner.

They wanted someone with commercial experience (to take the BBC into its digital future); with regulatory experience (the main job of the governors is to regulate the corporation) and broadcasting experience.

Sir Christopher, 57, neatly had all these qualifications. He is a chairman of several large organisations, notably the Hammersmith and Charing Cross NHS Trust, NFC, the former National Freight Corporation, and Life Sciences, a scientific-equipment group.

He gained regulatory experience when he served as deputy chairman of the Independent Broadcasting Authority (which became the Independent Television Commission in 1991) for most of the 1970s.

He is also deputy chairman of Nynex Cable Communications - from which he will resign - and chaired LWT when it was acrimoniously taken over by Granada, which left him at least pounds 9m richer.

He was already very rich, after having masterminded LWT's franchise application in 1991. It made millionaires of many of its senior management; some observers viewed it with distaste.

The son of a Shell executive, Sir Christopher was born in Japan and led a nomadic childhood before going to school at Sedburgh, in Yorkshire, which ran a regime of cold baths.

National service and Oxford University were followed by spells at Currys and Singer sewing machines, culminating in his move to LWT in 1984, where he developed his reputation for not suffering fools gladly.

He is keen on fishing and skiing, and his impressive Winchester home is also the scene of many parties, with guests including John Birt.

He has earned the reputation of being work-driven.

When asked why he had accepted the chairmanship of NFC (at pounds 200,000 a year) when he was already a multi-millionaire he said simply: "They asked me."

It will be interesting to see how Sir Christopher comes to grips with the newly commercialised BBC, especially given the opinion of Greg Dyke, the partner with whom he ran LWT.

When Sir Christopher shouted, he said, the best idea was to shout back.