Profile Clive Jones: An eye for the bigger picture

Carlton's chief believes in diversity of channels and viewers, writes Hilary Clarke
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One of Greg Dyke's staunchest supporters during his campaign to become director- general of the BBC will now be one of his biggest commercial rivals. Clive Jones, chief executive of Carlton Television, who headed the letter to the press defending Dyke, says he felt personally offended by allegations that Dyke's pounds 55,000 donation to the Labour Party would threaten his impartiality.

Once ensconced in his new job, Dyke is likely to be clashing head-on with Jones over issues such as whether the BBC should be allowed to raise its licence fee to pay for its digital television services.

Like Dyke, Jones is one of the new breed of television executives. And like Dyke, Roland Rat - a puppet that toured British beach resorts in a pink Ratmobile in the early Eighties - has a lot to do with the elevation of his career. Jones was managing director of TV-am, and along with the loveable rat and Dyke, turned the station round from failure to success.

Now the boss of the country's biggest commercial broadcaster, Jones, 50, is an unpretentious chap. The atmosphere at the company's glassy headquarters just off Trafalgar Square is genial, too.

The laid-back atmosphere at Carlton says a lot about Jones's approach to what is often felt to be the most two-faced, cut-throat business of them all.

"Television is really one big co-operative. You can have a great script, a great producer, great actors and a superb cameraman, but if the sound technician is lousy then the programme will be, too," says Jones, drawing on a cigarette.

Jones is little-known in the City. Most of the contact there is made by Carlton Communications' chairman, Michael Green, or the group chief executive, Steve Cain. Nor does he have a high profile in the media, apart from when he separated last year from his TV star wife of nine years, Fern Britton, of BBC2's Ready Steady Cook. But in the television world he is a respected and popular figure.

And Jones is also being recognised for his efforts in other quarters. Last month he was given a Windrush award for his efforts in improving the television career possibilities of people from ethnic minorities.

Jones is in charge of Carlton's programming and day-to-day management of all the company's broadcasting and sales operations. The company holds the ITV licences for Carlton weekday in London, Central in the Midlands and Westcountry in the South-west. Jones, who started his career as a newspaper reporter with the Yorkshire Post, joined Carlton Television as chief executive in 1996. Before that, he had been the final managing director of Central Independent Television before it was bought by Carlton.

Carlton is still patting itself on the back following its pounds 15m acquisition last March of the highly successful television station Planet 24 and the man who started it all, Lord Waheed Alli, who joins the company as managing director of production.

Carlton is planning a massive boost to its programming budget to the tune of pounds 200m a year in new programmes for ITV and other channels. Besides productions for its own channels, Carlton produces almost 3,000 hours of programming for its rival terrestrial broadcasters - the BBC, Channel 4 and Channel 5 - as well as for Sky and foreign broadcasters. "As we move forward into a multi-channel world, content will be king," says Jones. "Those people who have attracted key talent and are making key programmes will be major players in a world where programmes can be delivered by all sorts of means."

City analysts are anxiously awaiting next week's second- quarter figures for subscribers to ONdigital, Carlton's multi-channel joint venture with Granada designed to rival Rupert Murdoch's Sky.

The change of time for Carlton's news from 10pm to 11pm has seen the station lose some viewers from that slot. But, according to Jones, the numbers have more than been made up by a surge in viewers tuning in to the 6.30pm news.

Jones also sits on the Government's National Advisory Committee for Creative and Cultural Education, is a governor of the National Film and Television School and is an active member of the Commission on Racial Equality's Leadership Challenge. Carlton has a special training scheme for journalists from minority backgrounds and - at Jones' behest - has an in-house adviser to ensure its programmes reflect the diversity of the station's viewers.

"We aren't just doing it for philanthropic reasons. It makes good business sense as well. Seventy per cent of Britain's ethnic minorities live in the Carlton area.

"By 2004, 25 per cent of London's population will have their origins in the ethnic minorities. We can't ignore that. We have to make programmes the viewers want to watch."

In the autumn, Carlton plans to launch a campaign against homelessness including a mentor scheme by which Carlton executives "twin" with senior people working for homeless charities.

Still, you get the impression he still hankers after the days when he was a journalist. "The last general election was the first I hadn't covered for 30 years. I found that a bit difficult, but it wouldn't be right for the chief executive to suddenly turn up in the news room and start directing coverage."

Educated at grammar school and then the London School of Economics, Jones, who lives in Buckinghamshire, says he is "a great believer in state education".

All six of his children - three grown up from his first marriage and three younger ones from his second - went to the local school. It hasn't seemed to have done them any harm: his older son is doing a PhD in theology at Harvard.

Jones' circle of friends include John McLaren, the head of the trade union Unison, and Lord Hollick, owner of Express newspapers.

Now his old pal Greg has got the top job at the BBC, will Jones be joining him? He laughs.

"People don't really understand Greg. He won't be making any immediate changes. And no, he hasn't called me."