Former LWT chief to chair BBC

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The Independent Online
MARIANNE MACDONALD

Media Correspondent

Sir Christopher Bland, the former chairman of LWT, will succeed Marmaduke Hussey as chairman of the BBC board of governors in a move timed to coincide with the corporation's new charter.

The 57-year-old who was told of his appointment seven days ago will start duties on 1 April. Yesterday he vowed to fight to retain the BBC licence fee and to maintain the corporation's independence.

"The most important job of the chairman of the governors is to preserve its independence and impartiality. It's a quite different role to that of chairman of a normal company," he said.

Sir Christopher, who chairs NFC, the former National Freight Corporation, will receive a pounds 63,670 salary for the four-day-a-week job, which he said was his "most challenging by a long way".

The announcement yesterday came earlier than expected. Mr Hussey's five- year term of appointment was due to end on 5 November.

Government sources claimed that his premature step-down was not connected to the interview given by the Princess of Wales to Panorama. It had emerged that Mr Hussey had deliberately been kept in the dark about it by John Birt, the director-general.

Mr Hussey is said to have met the Prime Minister, John Major, two years ago, in order to warn him that he would not wish to continue as chairman when the new charter came into effect.

This was agreed last summer, when the search began for his successor. Names in the frame also included Sir David Scholey, a merchant banker, Lord Owen, former leader of the SDP, and Sir David Puttnam, the film producer.

Sir Christopher is a known and respected broadcaster after chairing LWT from 1983 to 1994, when it was taken over by Granada. It was there that he befriended Mr Birt, who was director of programmes.

His appointment is likely to be greeted with relief by BBC staff, who have viewed "Dukie", as he likes to be called, as an out-of-touch and old-fashioned grandee.

Virginia Bottomley, the Secretary of State for National Heritage, welcomed yesterday's announcement and warmly applauded Mr Hussey for having guided the BBC through "testing but necessary reform".

"Marmaduke Hussey's tireless stewardship has ensured that the BBC's traditions of quality programming will help guide British broadcasting into the digital future. Sir Christopher Bland is an outstanding successor," Mrs Bottomley added.

However, the Labour Party protested about the absence of consultation about Sir Christopher's appointment and warned of the need for him to maintain an independent stance.

'Duke' and his heir, page 2

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