BBC chief attacks interfering ministers and 'snotty' civil servants

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The Independent Online

Sir Christopher Bland, the outgoing chairman of the BBC, has warned Tessa Jowell, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, not to interfere with programme scheduling.

Sir Christopher continued the battle of words between the BBC and the Government yesterday. "I don't think the Secretary of State should have any place in deciding the timing or the nature of programme schedules on ITV, the BBC or anywhere else," he said, speaking at a Media Society lunch at London's Dorchester Hotel.

"God knows it's hard enough if you're being paid to do it but if you know nothing about it, you're best to keep away."

Last year, he infuriated Chris Smith, Ms Jowell's predecessor, by describing him merely as "a licence fee payer" after Mr Smith expressed concern about the BBC moving its news bulletin from 9pm to 10pm.

Sir Christopher showed his contempt for some of the civil servants at the Department for Culture, pleading for Jowell to abolish the diary secretary.

He said: "Those dreadful people who promise a phone call at 3.50pm and at 5.50pm you're wondering what's happened. Those snotty-nosed young men who always say 'Can I ask what it's about?' and you have to supress the urge to say none of your bloody business or in my case you don't and not surprisingly you don't get into the diary."

Sir Christopher, recently appointed chairman of British Telecom, then turned his attention to the BBC's competitors. Charles Allen, chief executive at Granada, he said should "keep his mouth shut rather than trying to persuade the Government that he should become immune to takeover. He should drop that line of argument and get on with the sort of basic problems that are considerable in his business."

The ITV group of companies, now comprising Granada and Carlton, should also stop moaning about the effects of a downturn in advertising revenues, he said. "Those of us that have been around longer than the Johnny-come-latelies know that these things pass. They've never been through a recession. Those of us that have know that it's very painful for a time but there's absolutely nothing you can do about it. The caravan will move on."

On the subject of who would be appointed the next chairman of the BBC when he officially retires from the post in September, Sir Christopher offered the following advice to the Prime Minister: "If you appoint a chairman about which there is no row, you've appointed the wrong one. Anyone worth a candle in this business will have defects as well as advantages. The job deserves and needs a real person. There will be a row, there should be a row, the Government has to bite the bullet."

He joked that the Government would be unlikely to find a candidate able to live up to his own high calibre. "People like me don't come along more than once in a lifetime," he said.

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