Man who has date with destiny

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The Independent Online
When the founding chief executive of Channel 4, Jeremy Isaacs, handed over control of the station to Michael Grade, he issued this stern warning to the cigar-chomping impresario: "I am handing on to you a sacred trust. If you screw it up, if you betray it, I'll come back and throttle you."

As far as we know, Michael Grade has not been moved to issue a similar threat to Michael Jackson as he prepares to succeed him in what he and many others many others regard as the best job in British broadcasting.

Mr Jackson has seemed almost pre-destined for this position since he penned a thesis on the need for a radical innovative minority network as part of his BA in Media Studies at the Polytechnic of Central London (now the University of Westminster). He was organiser of the Channel 4 Group which successfully lobbied for independent producers to play a key role in getting the station up and running.

Still only 39, Mr Jackson certainly gave the impression that his date with destiny had arrived yesterday when he was paraded before the press at Channel 4's headquarters near Victoria station, in central London.

"I have a huge attachment to Channel 4. I lobbied for it in its early days and I've watched it grow in strength and professionalism over the years," he confidently asserted, adding that his chief challenge would be to lead the station into the digital age and refresh and reinvigorate its programming remit."

Would that involve ditching programmes like The Girlie Show, which Mr Jackson, in his days in charge of BBC2, once denounced as "sapping of originality" and "putting packaging before programming"?

Predictably, the new boss refused to discuss the merits or demerits of individual programmes before meeting the station's commissioning editors. "But my comments on The Girlie Show are a matter of public record," he added rather ominously.

He was also ultra-careful too asked about the future of its director of programming John Willis, whom he pipped for the chief executive post and with whom he once traded insults. Mr Willis branded him a "copycat criminal" after he had described Channel 4 as the "lager channel" because of its obsessive desire to appeal to upwardly mobile young males. But, all is fair in love and ratings wars, apparently. "I have a great respect for John," enthused Mr Jackson.

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