BBC1 chief is moved to ailing sports division

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The Independent Online

Peter Salmon, controller of BBC1 has, after months of public criticism, been moved aside by Greg Dyke to become the corporation's sports supremo.

Peter Salmon, controller of BBC1 has, after months of public criticism, been moved aside by Greg Dyke to become the corporation's sports supremo.

As director of sport he will be required to salvage the BBC's reputation as a sports broadcaster after a year in which it failed to retain rights to Premiership football and lost the presenter Des Lynam to ITV. Lorraine Heggessy, at present co-head of BBC Education, is expected to replace Mr Salmon at BBC1, becoming the channel's first female controller.

Mr Dyke, when he took over the top BBC job, promised to appoint a powerful sports chief who would "duck and dive" to win back rights and put sports at the heart of the corporation.

But Mr Salmon will run a department depleted by the loss of a host of contracts, including Formula One racing, Ryder Cup golf and Test cricket.

A rival at ITV said: "You need a streetfighter in the BBC job, a wheeler-dealer who will be good at securing rights against the odds by collaborating with commercial companies."

Mr Dyke had been expected to appoint a high-profile deal-maker from commercial television and BBC sources said they believed the Carlton Television chief executive, Clive Jones, would take the post. However, they understood the BBC could not afford to buy out Mr Jones from his lucrative position at Carlton.

Mr Salmon, a well-respected television programme-maker, has a very different background. He started out as a producer of Crimewatch and BBC2's environmental series Nature, and was executive producer of the Wallace and Gromit animation The Wrong Trousers.

Mr Dyke said yesterday: "He brings to the department great experience in programme-making plus an acute awareness of the bigger picture in broadcasting - a picture in which BBC Sport needs to consolidate its position."

Earlier this year the BBC's governors condemned the output of BBC1 as being "below standard", saying it relied too much on "lighter factual" programmes such as Changing Rooms and Ground Force.

It was the third year in succession that BBC1's performance had been criticised by the governors, which led to mounting speculation that Mr Salmon would move from the job. The rumours increased when, at the Edinburgh Television Festival, Mr Dyke said the channel lacked imaginative ideas, citing its use of soap stars in dramas such as Harbour Lights and Sunburn.

Mr Salmon's public image was damaged because he was responsible for the muchcriticised BBC decision not to broadcast coverage of the Queen Mother's birthday pageant.

Mr Dyke said: "Peter told Mark Thompson [director of television] and I some months ago that he didn't want to continue as controller of BBC1 beyond this autumn."

The appointment of a new controller is itself immersed in controversy. Broadcasting executives said Mr Dyke was clearly reducing the traditional power of the controllers of BBC1 and BBC2. He has introduced a new commissioning system, which will mean that controllers share commissioning power with a new team of genre heads.

A former BBC television executive said: "In the past controllers were getting too involved in actual programme-making. They were reading drama scripts, for instance, and getting involved in casting ... The new system would make sense if the BBC could find a team of really high-powered commissioning editors, but so far they have not pulled it off. For example, there is no drama commissioner in place."

Ms Heggessy will face a tough challenge in her new job. Her background is in factual programmes, while BBC1 is in desperate need of popular drama. She has been in the public eye only once in recent years, to appear on Blue Peter to make an on-screen apology for the presenter Richard Bacon when he was sacked after a drugs spree that was exposed in the national press.