BBC1 chief set to join exodus over budget cuts

The controller of Britain's most-watched television channel, BBC1, is considering her future after being lined up for one of the biggest jobs in independent broadcasting.

Lorraine Heggessey has been included on a shortlist as the next head of Talkback Thames, one of the UK's largest production companies and the makers of shows such as Pop Idol, The Bill and I'm Alan Partridge.

Ms Heggessey is understood to be interested in taking up the post which will become vacant in June on the retirement of Peter Fincham, the chief executive. Her willingness to consider the role is a sign of growing unease among senior executives at the BBC over impending massive budget cuts at the corporation.

Ms Heggessey, 48, has been controller of BBC1 for nearly five years and has fought hard to protect the channel's diminishing audience in the face of the growth of digital television. Her attempts to maintain ratings have drawn criticisms of "dumbing down" as she has scheduled an extra weekly episode of EastEnders and extended popular dramas such as Holby City and Casualty. But she has had notable successes, including Strictly Come Dancing.

But although she has in the past said that she intends to attempt to become BBC1's longest-serving controller (which would mean staying in post until 2007 to outlast Sir Paul Fox's six-and-a-half year tenure), Ms Heggessey is said to have come to the view that her stay at the corporation's flagship channel has run its course. "She probably thinks she has done enough and is clearly thinking about what is her next job," one source close to Ms Heggessey said yesterday.

Supporters of the feisty controller, who is an award-winning journalist and former Panorama producer who graduated in literature from Durham University and has shown herself adept in dealing with both high-brow and popular television content, think she has been unfairly attacked during what was always going to be a difficult time for BBC1.

Critics claim that she has allowed the channel to lose its identity, and seized on a review of BBC1 ordered by the corporation's governors to "assess whether or not the channel has the best balance of output in peak time".

Rumours that she is set to leave the BBC are rife at Television Centre and Ms Heggessey has not denied them, except to say that her job at BBC1 was "my focus". A BBC spokeswoman yesterday described the talk of Ms Heggessey's impending departure as "speculation". She said: "When there's jobs like [the chief executive position at Talkback Thames] available there is always speculation."

She denied that Ms Heggessey had held meetings to discuss the issue with BBC bosses and said the BBC1 controller was engaged in commissioning programmes for the new season.

Talkback Thames, which is part of the media conglomerate RTL - Europe's largest television and radio company - was formed by the merger in 2003 of two of the biggest names in independent television. Talkback Productions was formed in 1981 by the comedians Mel Smith and Griff Rhys Jones and became best known for comedies such as Smack The Pony and factual shows including Grand Designs and Jamie's Kitchen. Thames was one of Britain's best-known broadcasters, as the holder of the ITV licence for London between 1968 and 1991, before it was acquired by Pearson and later became part of RTL.

Yesterday a spokeswoman for Talkback Thames said that the appointment of the company's new chief executive was in the hands of Tony Cohen, the chief executive of parent company Fremantle Media. "I think we are getting closer to an announcement but there are several possible people being talked about," she said.

Ms Heggessey might have a rival candidate for the Talkback Thames job in her BBC colleague Peter Salmon, currently head of sport at the corporation, who was touted last year as an outside contender for succeeding Greg Dyke as director general.

ONE YEAR, FOUR BIG-NAME DEPARTURES

JANE ROOT

Famous for "event television" such as Great Britons, Restoration and The Big Read during five years as controller of BBC2. She announced in March last year that she was leaving the corporation to go to America as head of Discovery Networks.

ANDY DUNCAN

The BBC's director of marketing, communications and audiences had barely had the opportunity to welcome Mark Thompson as director general last spring before he left the corporation in July to take Mr Thompson's old job as chief executive of Channel 4.

MAL YOUNG

The BBC head of continuing drama quit last September after seven years, following ongoing problems at the troubled soap EastEnders. He went to join the independent 19TV as head of drama.

CAROLYN FAIRBURN

The director of BBC strategy was highly thought of by the BBC director general Mark Thompson. She quit the corporation after seven years last October to go travelling with her children and husband Peter Chittick, who recently made a small fortune when the Hotel du Vin chain, of which he was a director, was bought by Malmaison.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Guru Careers: PR Account Manager / AM

£20-30K(DOE) + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a PR Account M...

Guru Careers: Account Manager / Account Executive

Competitive (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: One of the UK’s largest and most s...

Guru Careers: Marketing and Communications Manager

£Competitive (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing and Co...

Guru Careers: Digital Designer / Interactive Designer

£ Highly Competitive (DOE): Guru Careers: A Digital Designer / Interactive Des...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence