BBC's high-flyers flocking to join the blossoming indies

The BBC brain-drain appears to be gathering momentum, with Stuart Murphy, the controller of the digital channel BBC3, the latest in a long line of high-profile BBC figures to be poached by "indies".

Mr Murphy has been appointed creative director at RDF Media, the " super-indie" behind shows such as Wife Swap, Faking It and Rock School.

Improved terms of trade, giving indies the copyright to their shows for the first time, as well as increased opportunities to make programmes for the BBC, means that life has never been sweeter for the independent sector.

But the BBC is going through a painful period of 7,000 job cuts, and senior staff are also under pressure to convince the Government of the case for charter renewal and an increased licence fee.

Lorraine Heggessey, the former BBC1 controller, quit in February to join Talkback Thames, maker of I'm Alan Partridge and Da Ali G Show. The BBC sports chief Peter Salmon left in April for TV Corp, the production company behind the David Blunkett comic drama A Very Social Secretary.

TV Corp has also recruited Elaine Sperber, the BBC head of children's drama, and backed entertainment controller Jane Lush, who commissioned the hit series Strictly Come Dancing, to set up her own indie, Splash, with former BBC colleague Fenia Vardanis. Other high-level BBC departures this year include head of comedy Sophie Clarke-Jervoise, who quit to join Tiger Aspect, which makes The Vicar of Dibley and Mr Bean and Mark Freeland, head of comedy commissioning, to join Hartswood Films, the company behind Men Behaving Badly and Coupling.

Mr Murphy said a main factor in his decision to leave the BBC was the greater creative freedom offered by the independent sector.

"You don't realise how much relentless pressure you're under when you run a BBC channel," he said. "It's really long hours, a huge financial responsibility and creatively exhausting, as well as thinking about crisis management.

"The thought of being director of a big indie is great, full-on in a creative way. I won't have lots of the strategy issues. I won't have to listen to MPs in the same way. Indies now own their programming rights, so the value of a programming idea can only be fully exploited at an indie. The market value the indies put on creative people is entirely out of kilter with the market value the BBC puts on creative people."

Under the terms of the Communications Act 2003, the Producers Alliance for Cinema and Television negotiated new agreements with Channel 4, Five and the BBC. From July 2004, the deals gave independent production companies the rights to their own programmes, which previously belonged to the broadcaster. The BBC is also doubling its limit of 25 per cent of programmes which must be made by indies.

The brain drain

STUART MURPHY
The former BBC3 controller has quit to join the indie RDF Media which makes Wife Swap.

LORRAINE HEGGESSEY
The former BBC1 controller left for Talkback Thames, which makes Da Ali G Show.

PETER SALMON
The former BBC head of sport took over as chief executive of TV Corp nine weeks ago.

JANE LUSH
The BBC entertainment commissioner of Strictly Come Dancing has set up her own indie, Splash.

SOPHIE CLARKE-JERVOISE
BBC head of comedy quit to join Tiger Aspect, which makes The Vicar of Dibley.

MARK FREELAND
Head of BBC comedy commissioning left for Harts-wood Films, which made Men Behaving Badly.

TOMMY NAGRA
Head of the BBC Asian Programmes Unit joined Maverick TV, which makes C4's Ten Years Younger.

ELAINE SPERBER
Former-head of children's drama who left BBC to follow Salmon to TV Corp.

JANE ROOT
The first female controller of BBC2 joined Discovery Networks as executive vice-president in 2004.

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