Dimbleby provides answer for 'Question Time'

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THE DIMBLEBY family dynasty moved smoothly onwards and upwards at the BBC yesterday with the announcement that David Dimbleby had beaten Jeremy Paxman to become presenter of Question Time.

The battle to succeed Peter Sissons on the prestigious television programme had been a hard one. Besides much internal manoeuvring, each contender had to host a pilot show. Mr Dimbleby, 55, was felt to be the safe candidate, the establishment figure who will not ruffle too many feathers. Mr Paxman, 43, is renowned for savaging interviewees on BBC2's Newsnight.

By becoming presenter of Question Time, which the BBC regards as a flagship programme, Mr Dimbleby is continuing a tradition of authoritative broadcasting started by his father, Richard, who died in 1965. Richard Dimbleby's sonorous tones commentating on great state occasions made him the voice of the BBC. For his sons David and Jonathan, who chairs BBC1's On The Record it was a hard act to follow.

Like his father, David has presented Panorama, fronted general election coverage and been the commentator on important outside broadcasts. He has also been the anchor-man on 24 Hours and Nationwide, but has long hankered after the Question Time post.

Yesterday he said: 'I decided a long time ago that my father and I inhabited different television and broadcasting worlds. I gave up any notion of challenging his reputation across the generations because it is a different reputation from mine.'

He is known to have been disappointed that he did not get the Question Time post when Mr Sissons succeeded Sir Robin Day in 1989. This time Mr Dimbleby wanted the job so badly that he was prepared to compete with Mr Paxman, a relative newcomer, on dummy shows.

Mr Dimbleby said: 'The BBC turned it into a prize fight, not me. It is unusual but if they had wanted me to do cartwheels on the lawn I would have done cartwheels on the lawn.'

BBC sources say that Mr Paxman handled the panel well but was not good with the audience while Mr Dimbleby was generally more relaxed and much better at dealing with the questioners.

Mr Dimbleby said yesterday that he steered the pilot programme in the way that he wants to see Question Time change its emphasis. He explained: 'It should not be a vehicle for politicians; it should be a vehicle for the public.'

Mr Paxman admitted before his pilot programme that he was nervous. He had David Mellor, the former Cabinet minister, on the panel, who, while answering a question, offered to do his job for him.

Although Mr Paxman had his supporters, his abrasive ways have not endeared him to some at the BBC. He and John Birt, the Director-General, do not see eye to eye.

It is thought that Mr Dimbleby will be paid nearly pounds 15,000 per show.

Mr Dimbleby, lives with Belinda Sykes - a television producer and daughter of Frank Giles, a former editor of the Sunday Times - after splitting up from his wife Josceline last year.

He is independently well off through ownership of a local newspaper group in London which brought him into a long conflict with trade unions in the 1980s, when a threat by the National Union of Journalists to black out his television appearances was called off at the last moment.

(Photograph omitted)