BBC staff 'surprised' by new Radio 4 chief

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The Independent Online

Mark Damazer, a senior figure in the BBC's news division when it came under fire during the Hutton inquiry, has clinched one of the most desirable jobs in British radio - controller of Radio 4.

The current deputy director of BBC news beat off competition from the BBC's head of television news, Roger Mosey, to win the job of overseeing programmes ranging from the Today programme to The Archers. He will also be responsible for the digital speech radio station BBC7.

The appointment came as something of a surprise to staff at the BBC, who were widely expecting Mr Mosey to get the job. Mr Damazer, who applied for the job unsuccessfully last time round, was not seen as a front runner. But the move by BBC management to appoint one of the senior executives involved in the row over Andrew Gilligan's controversial Today report on the approach to the Iraq war is also seen as a robust one.

Mr Damazer was one of the BBC executives cleared but left "shell-shocked" by the internal disciplinary inquiry described as a "kangaroo court" which was set up following Lord Hutton's devastating conclusions. "I know that six months ago Mark was pretty pessimistic about any further promotions. I think it's a big vote of confidence. He's clearly got [the director general] Mark Thompson's backing," said one BBC insider.

He replaces Helen Boaden, who has taken over from Richard Sambrook as director of BBC news. "Being controller of Radio 4 is the best job in broadcasting and I am privileged to be given the opportunity of working with so many talented and creative people," said Mr Damazer.

"Radio 4 is in terrific shape and my challenge is to cherish it, sustain it and make sure it remains the home for intelligence, flair and wit."

He added that he wanted BBC7, which broadcasts drama, comedy, and children's programmes as well as archive material, to become "a must for those who value the BBC's storehouse of drama and comedy". Jenny Abramsky, the director of BBC radio, said: "Mark is a passionate listener and supporter of Radio 4. When you talk to him you realise it's in his blood. I'm sure he will build on Helen Boaden's success and take Radio 4 and BBC7 to new heights." Although Mr Damazer's career began in television, he has been responsible for some of Radio 4's flagship programmes. As head of political programmes at the BBC from 1998 to 2000, he was in charge of Yesterday in Parliament and The Westminster Hour and as head of current affairs from 1996 to 1998 he oversaw radio documentaries including File on 4 and From Our Own Correspondent.

Born in April 1955, Mr Damazer gained a double starred first in history at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, and was awarded the Harkness scholarship to Harvard University.

He started as a trainee with ITN in 1979 before rising to become editor of Newsnight and the BBC's Nine O'Clock News. In 1999, Mr Damazer was appointed assistant director of BBC news and in 2001 he became deputy director.

The new Radio 4 chief is married with two children, and lists supporting Tottenham Hotspur, gardening, coarse tennis and Italian painting as his recreations in Who's Who.