Day One of `Greg-ism': Birt in the background as the new boss arrives at Broadcasting House

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The Independent Online
THERE IS nothing as brutal as a photographer and his camera lens, as up to five of the BBC's most senior executives discovered yesterday.

Just as they lined up to have their picture taken alongside the new director general, Greg Dyke, and his predecessor, Sir John Birt, they were quickly told to move out of the way. It was just the two main players who would be required, they were told.

Only a few months ago each of the executives had their own ambitions to be at the centre of the frame, not consigned firmly to the sidelines, having all applied for the DG's job.

Now, on day one for Greg Dyke as the top man at the corporation, the future for some was uncertain. For most of the BBC's most senior men - and a few women - arriving early at work was something of a priority yesterday.

"I've come to make sure there isn't a black binliner on my desk already," one executive said quietly. He claimed to have heard the new boss single out his department for criticism in a speech on one occasion.

"I'm sure I heard him say he'd start by sacking the lot of us, but that was 1994. I hope he's forgotten it."

Not that Mr Dyke will have had much chance to assess things yesterday. For it was a day of Birtism, not Gregism - although he was able to inject a bit of PR savvy into his arrival.

Mr Dyke arrived at the BBC's Broadcasting House headquarters in central London after being driven from his home in Twickenham, south-west London in the Jaguar car that the BBC bought from his old employer, Pearson.

As his car rolled up at 8.30am there were photographers and journalists waiting. But Mr Dyke had managed to get out of the car and halfway to the building before any of the assembled camera crews had time to react. He obligingly volunteered to repeat his getting-out-of-the-car exercise - this time using the car belonging to the BBC's corporate affairs director, Colin Browne - so the cameras could have their shot.

Once he was inside, as for any new senior civil servant, his day began with a bewildering array of meetings with shadowy boards whose bureaucratic names - ExComm and BoM - are designed to confuse outsiders. But unlike most new civil servants, Mr Dyke found 20 photographers and cameramen in his meeting room when he showed up.

There was then the photocall, which took place in the oak-panelled council chamber under the baleful gaze of the first DG, Lord Reith, and was replete with nicely symbolic touches.

After the photocall, Mr Dyke's first meeting involved Tony Hall, the head of BBC News, and Mark Byford, head of the World Service, both of whom applied for the top job.

With the photographers gone, Sir John welcomed Mr Dyke to the corporation, and the two men sat together at the head of the chamber's rectangular arrangement of tables.

In what is a rather curious scenario, Mr Dyke will work alongside Sir John until next April. For the next five months Mr Dyke will formally be deputy director general.

He has promised to bring a new ethos to the corporation. And yesterday he filled in the executive committee, or ExComm, on what would be his first move, namely to reduce a first layer of bureaucracy.

Mr Dyke has secured for himself the additional powers that come with being chief executive of BBC Broadcast, the directorate that controls the output of BBC1, BBC2 and BBC Radio. He will take over when the current incumbent, Will Wyatt, retires in December.

The extra role will give Mr Dyke an immediate hands-on say in the running of the two core television channels and will allow him to make changes more quickly than had been expected.

With the role will come the responsibility for conducting a review of the relationship between the section of the BBC that broadcasts programmes and the other parts, particularly the corporate centre, which has been criticised for being overly bureaucratic. The review should give Mr Dyke the power to cut back some of the policy and planning departments that have been the hallmark of Sir John's reign and his much-vilified "Birtism".

Furthermore, by securing the job for himself Mr Dyke will be able to delay the important appointment of the next broadcast chief until after Sir John's hand-over period is complete.

After hearing Mr Dyke's plan, the board, more prosaically, discussed September's accounts and heard an update on the corporation's plans for the year 2000.

After ExComm, Mr Dyke had to endure a Board of Management - BoM - meeting, which included the members of ExComm plus the head of television, Alan Yentob, directors of radio and the regions, and a slew of second-tier executives. They discussed the BBC's education strategy and heard an update on the number and nature of recent viewers' complaints. Before the meeting Mr Dyke told journalists: "I'm very much in listening mode." And according to one who was there, he was true to his word: "He spoke only to have a couple of things explained, but otherwise he seemed well briefed. Judging from his tan, I think he spent much of his holiday reading internal documents on the beach."

What would otherwise have been a long day of policy detail and number- crunching was cut short by the need for both Mr Dyke and Sir John to attend the funeral of Cilla Black's husband, Bobby Willis, who died 11 days ago from liver and lung cancer.

Instead of a lunch with yet more executives, Mr Dyke grabbed a sandwich for the drive to Ms Black's home village of Denham in Buckinghamshire. Both BBC DGs were once programming directors at London Weekend Television, where Ms Black works, and they were both personal friends of Mr Willis, who also acted as Ms Black's manager.

Mr Dyke returned from the funeral in time for the BBC's reception at the magnificent Hampton Court Palace last night, once again accompanying Sir John.