A chatty e-mail, a canteen lunch and a new hunt for a DG: era of Grade begins

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He kicked off his first day as BBC chairman with a photo call in the morning sunshine and a friendly email to staff urging them to "give me a shout" if they see him walking around.

He kicked off his first day as BBC chairman with a photo call in the morning sunshine and a friendly email to staff urging them to "give me a shout" if they see him walking around.

Michael Grade arrived at the BBC's sprawling new "media village" in London's White City at 9.15am in a chauffeur-driven car before posing for the cameras outside the entrance to his new workplace.

The former Channel 4 chief executive, once tagged Britain's "pornographer in chief" for introducing risqué programming to the channel, joked to reporters that his first challenge would be "finding my office".

He then added that one of his main priorities was to "defend the licence fee" which has come under attack from critics in the run up to the renewal of the BBC's royal charter in 2006.

Within hours of his arrival, Mr Grade made his first key decision - he reopened the search for a new director general, but closed the vacancy to new applicants. After spending the morning perusing the file of candidates who have already applied, he decided there was no need to re-advertise the post.

The move leaves a question mark over the bookies' favourite Mark Thompson, the current chief executive of Channel 4, who has publicly stated that he has not applied for the job.

BBC insiders said the atmosphere yesterday was far more low-key than when Mr Grade's appointment was announced on April 2. Then the organisation's highest echelons gathered for an euphoric press conference to welcome their new chairman aboard.

The BBC's secretary, Simon Milner, who has now served under three chairmen, came to meet Mr Grade. As the new chairman walked up to his third floor office in the gleaming new Media Centre, he exchanged cheery greetings with employees who crossed his path, but there was no great fanfare.

At 11am the former BBC director of programmes sent an email to all staff saying he was "thrilled" but "slightly daunted" to be back, and promising to tour the BBC's regional centres as well as its London offices.

"One of my first priorities is to get around as much of the BBC and meet as many of you as possible, and I don't just mean the London part of the empire. Do give me a shout if you see me walking around, I'm the one with red socks (but no cigar these days)."

He did not refer directly to the devastating impact of the Hutton report, but acknowledged the pressure the BBC has endured and sought to draw a line under the affair.

In a move designed to heal the divisions that have arisen as a result of the recent internal post-Hutton inquiry, he thanked director of policy Caroline Thomson and director of personnel Stephen Dando who led the disciplinary process.

"I do not underestimate the effect of the recent difficulties on staff. Those difficulties are now behind us. But some good came out of the storm, namely that the independence of the BBC, when tested, enjoys widespread and vocal public support. That is most heartening," he said.

Mr Grade lost no time in resuming the quest for a new director general, saying the board of governors was determined to announce the appointment "as soon as possible".

The recruitment process was frozen when Mr Grade was appointed chairman last month. At that stage, neither Mr Thompson nor the BBC's director of television, Jana Bennett, had applied for the post. Acting director general Mark Byford and head of radio Jenny Abramsky are believed to have been on the shortlist. Yesterday, Mr Grade closed the process to new applications, but it is still possible that he could hold informal discussions with potential candidates who have not applied for the post.

The new chairman, who has decorated his office with family photographs, also spent yesterday looking at the BBC's draft submission on charter review, due to be submitted by the end of June.

He told staff: "We cannot take our privileged position as a 'cherished institution' for granted; we need to make a compelling case for the BBC to be allowed to continue as the unique, vibrant and creative organisation we know it to be."

Work on the document is already well advanced, so if Mr Grade wants to make his mark he must move quickly. Yesterday he singled out defending the licence fee as one of the toughest battles facing the BBC, saying there would be "a great public debate" on the issue.

The new chairman had no swanky lunch date in his diary. Instead he grabbed soup and a sandwich in one of the BBC's many canteens. Later in the day he touched base with the BBC's newsroom, popping down the road to Television Centre to watch the Six O'Clock News.

'I'M THE ONE IN THE RED SOCKS'

"It was a thrill to walk into the building this morning, part of the BBC team again. All I need to feel fully at home is my ID badge.

One of my first priorities is to get around as much of the BBC and meet as many of you as possible, as soon as possible, and I don't mean just the London part of the empire. Do give me a shout if you see me walking around, I'm the one with red socks (but no cigar these days). Preparing to launch our contribution to the debate about our future, Charter Review is something else I need to focus on immediately. I am reassured that work is well advanced.

We cannot take our privileged position as a 'cherished institution' for granted; we need to make a compelling case for the BBC to be allowed to continue as the unique, vibrant and creative organisation we know it to be. I look forward to leading the defence of the licence fee and the debate about our future - but I do need everyone who works for the Corporation to play their part in helping me to get that message across. I commend everyone for maintaining the level of commitment throughout all parts of the BBC. My objective is to focus the Corporation on the future and the future for me starts today. I relish the prospect, and I know you will all strive to make my job that much easier by continuing to deliver the fullest public service of programmes available anywhere in the world. I am more thrilled than I can say to be part of the BBC's future."

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