Final lap in the race for world's top public broadcasting job

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The Independent Online
THE GLOVES are off in the battle to be the next director general of the BBC. Thirteen finalists were revealed yesterday to have made it through to the shortlist.

The contenders have all submitted their visions for the future of the BBC - and are facing a barrage of questions from BBC governors about the financing of their plans, how future management structures will work, and how far the BBC should extend itself into digital channels.

Already it is becoming clear that each individual's plans for the corporation have consequences for their rivals' careers - elevating some of them to power, and threatening to put others out of a job.

Most external candidates - Greg Dyke, David Elstein, Will Hutton, Andrew Neil and Howard Davies - have been interviewed already. Several of them, including Mr Neil and Mr Hutton, have proposed that John Birt's new digital channels should be closed down, commercialised or sold off, and have promised to get rid of excess management and bureaucracy.

Should one of them win the top job, there would be immediate gloom in the camps of some of the internal candidates. Tony Hall, head of BBC news, would have to consider the future of the News 24 channel, which has swallowed pounds 20m of BBC funds. Patricia Hodgson, head of policy and planning, who earns nearly pounds 250,000 a year and employs unpopular teams of former management consultants to help her in her job, might find herself battling for survival.

The internal candidates are: Alan Yentob, director of television; Mark Byford, head of the World Service; Matthew Bannister, head of production; Mark Thompson, who runs regional broadcasting; Patricia Hodgson; Tony Hall; and Rupert Gavin, the boss of BBC Worldwide.

Mr Yentob has been interviewed already, giving a presentation that emphasised creativity and commitment to global expansion. Some of his colleagues will face interrogation next week. All of the internal candidates have previously signed up to the "big-BBC" option, and will be (in BBC language) going seriously off message if they deviate from it.

Rupert Gavin, who is not a strong contender, is, according to some of his rivals, to be pitied. The "visions" being presented nearly all require that he can produce vast amounts of cash from the BBC's commercial operations to supplement the static income from the licence fee. It is a task that eluded his predecessor, the former deputy director general, Bob Phillis.

The internal candidates are, for the most part, better at handling difficult governors' cross-examination on the nature of public-service broadcasting in a changing broadcasting market. They are well versed in BBC theology, and adept at making the arguments. Mark Thompson, Mark Byford and Matthew Bannister are all renowned for their Birtist presentational skills. Patricia Hodgson, by contrast, is prone to talk in an impressive jumble of metaphors.

Three or four of the candidates will go through to the final stage of the selection process, and face the full board of 12 governors. BBC apparatchiks are currently scouting around for a new secret location for interviews. The other candidate believed to have been interviewed was Richard Eyre, the chief executive of ITV.

Alan Yentob, 52

Made his name in BBC arts programming, particularly with the Arena series, before going on to be one of the most successful controllers of BBC2. Then moved to BBC1 before a reorganisation made him director of television. Creative rather than a natural administrator.

Mark Thompson, 41

Director of Regional Broadcasting. A former editor of Newsnight and Panorama where he did not leave much of a mark. But proved great success as Controller of BBC2, where some dazzling schedules put rival Channel 4 to shame. A proficient performer at BBC selection boards. Very bright.

Matthew Bannister, 42

Revolutionised Greater London Radio before a secondment working for John Birt writing a strategic planning document. Famous for reinventing Radio 1, losing loyal listeners and disc jockeys, but ultimately making the station healthy. Is now chief executive of BBC Production.

Patricia Hodgson, 52

Director of Policy and Planning. Was John Birt's right-hand woman when he landed the top job. Excellent grasp of policy matters, and employer of bright young men from McKinseys. Her candidacy is, though, tainted by her background as a campaigner and researcher for the Conservative Party.

David Elstein, 55

Famously took the pressure from Thatcher government when as Thames boss he defended Death on the Rock. Later joined BSkyB before becoming chief executive of Channel 5. Huge intellect and experience, but Elstein may be too opposed to the licence fee for the governors to accept.

Tony Hall, 48

Chief executive BBC News.Rose rapidly in news and current affairs, embracing Birtist demands to take news production "bi-media", with the introduction of new technology that has not always run smoothly. In charge of relocation of news operations at White City. Good at chairing meetings.

Will Hutton, 50

Once the relatively unknown economics editor of The Guardian. Then his book The State We're In, a chronicle of all that was wrong with Britain, became a bestseller. He became editor of The Observer but failed to halt the paper's loss of readers. Now titled editor-in-chief of The Observer.

Rupert Gavin, 44

Chief executive, BBC Worldwide. Old Etonian, slightly pleased with himself for making a lot of money at a young age. A background in the private sector. Now in charge of trying to rustle up more money from the BBC's commercial operations and correcting a fairly dismal history at BBC Worldwide.

Andrew Neil, 50

Ubiquitous former editor of The Sunday Times. The man who made his master, Rupert Murdoch, millions before falling out with him. Has presenting experience in television and radio but is still known as a newspaper man. Is currently editor-in-chief of The Scotsman and Sunday Business.

Greg Dyke, 51

Chairman of Pearson TV. The victim of a "stop-Dyke" campaign, but one of the strongest candidates. A background at London Weekend Television. A good brain, but inventor of Roland Rat. May have harmed his bid by making a pounds 50,000 contribution to the Labour Party.

Mark Byford, 42

Managing director of the World Service. When in charge of the regions he pushed through a punishing Birt agenda that involved many job losses and reorganisations without making enemies. This affable character has a general air of bonhomie, but he is unproven at the highest levels.

Howard Davies, 48

Former Deputy Governor of the Bank of England and chairman of the Confederation of British Industry. Started as diplomat, advisor to Nigel Lawson at Treasury then McKinsey management consultant. An outside chance, as he has no broadcasting experience.