David Docherty has never made a television programme ... but that's not likely to stop him taking control of BBC1

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The Independent Online
As Michael Jackson prepares to take charge of Channel 4, professional Beeb-watchers are starting to shift their focus to another intriguing question: who will succeed him as the BBC's director of television and controller of BBC1? Those of us paid to ponder such things wait eagerly for a trail of white smoke to emerge from White City. For, at times like this, the manoeuvrings for power and status inside Television Centre are as impenetrable as those in the Vatican. Indeed, it would probably be safer to place a bet on who's going to be the next Pope.

The talk of the telly trade is that the joint favourites are both internal candidates. The first is Alan Yentob, who was BBC1 controller before the big structural shake-up which director general John Birt deemed essential to take Auntie into the digital age. Birt split the BBC's television operation into two separate divisions, BBC Broadcast and BBC Production. Yentob was less than delighted to find himself recast as director of programmes within the latter division because whatever great creative ideas BBC Production comes up with can come to nought unless they tickle the palate of those who control the commissioning purse-strings and draw up the schedules at BBC Broadcast.

The chief executive of that all-powerful division is Will Wyatt, who is said to be eager to find a swift replacement for Jackson (not least to answer those who say the wunderkind of White City is irreplaceable). The fact that Wyatt will have a big say in the appointment has fuelled speculation that Jackson's job - or at least part of it - will go to David Docherty. Presently director of strategy and channel development for BBC Broadcast, Docherty has risen up the corporation's ranks largely on Wyatt's coat-tails. Ostensibly he was hired to help the BBC give the licence-payers what they wanted. After completing a doctorate in sociology at the London School of Economics, he crossed the city to work as a research fellow at the Broadcasting Research Unit in London and then became director of research at the Broadcasting Standards Council. There is no denying that David Docherty is a real number-cruncher. In fact he hasn't made a television programme in his puff.

That stark deficiency and his continued dabblings in market-research and focus-group findings since joining the BBC in 1989 soon prompted accusations that he was squeezing creativity out of the programme-making process. It was all too easy for critics of the Birtian reforms to portray this 40-year-old Glaswegian as Wyatt's eminence grise (he even has a mop of premature grey hair).

Docherty has struggled to shed that reputation, emphasising at every available opportunity his working-class roots in the notorious Gorbals district of Glasgow to prove that he is no aloof egghead. This young Scot can also delve into his database and summon a mound of statistics to bolster his belief that he and Wyatt are an effective, even formidable, duo. BBC1 has done remarkably well on the ratings front in recent years, even shining in the field of popular drama with hit series such as Ballykissangel and Hamish Macbeth.

But, despite his proven expertise in scheduling and strategic vision, David Docherty's CV contains nothing to suggest that he has the creative flair to fill both of Michael Jackson shoes.

Thus, there is intense speculation that Wyatt is seeking to give Jackson's job(s) to both Docherty and Yentob. Yentob might well be reluctant to resume the reins of BBC1, having been unceremoniously shunted out of that post to make way for Michael Jackson. In the past Docherty has not disguised his ambition to become a channel controller, convincing friends that he is the only UK executive ever trained to perform that role. He would be beaming if he got a golden chance to prove that it isn't only those with production experience who can effectively practise the controller's black arts.

But, would Yentob be equally over the moon? Shorn of control over the big popular entertainment network, what would a Director of Television actually determine in Birt's new Structure for the Digital Age? Wouldn't he simply be shedding one vaguely defined role for another equally frustrating remit?

If Yentob is yet again given a bum deal by the Beeb, it would strike many as a grave injustice. During the contest to succeed Michael Grade at the helm of Channel 4, a pernicious myth was peddled that Yentob was too disorganised and basically unbusinesslike to become chief executive of that company. This hardly squares with the fact that he was generally deemed a success as controller of both BBC1 and BBC2. When Jackson stepped into these posts after him, the big question was what he could possibly do to improve on Yentob's performance.

One final small point. If David Docherty is elevated to either of Jackson's jobs, it would be trite to portray it as part of the general "tartan takeover" of British public life. Docherty is certainly a Scot, speaking with a broad Glaswegian brogue, but he doesn't boast about his Caledonian origins. Growing up in the Gorbals as a Catholic when the Protestant ascendancy still held sway throughout the west of Scotland - not least at BBC Scotland - seems to have left him with a deeply ambivalent view of his native land. But the outlook of Scotland's RC minority has evolved somewhat during his voluntary exile in the last two decades - a topic which would make for a very interesting TV programme with a devolved Scottish parliament on the horizon. Just don't expect David Docherty to makeit.

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