Dyke unleashes 'avenging fury' on Blair Hutton, Campbell and the BBC governors

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Greg Dyke was never going to let his critics go unanswered and this weekend they felt the full force of his avenging fury.

Greg Dyke was never going to let his critics go unanswered and this weekend they felt the full force of his avenging fury.

The former BBC director general's list of targets includes Tony Blair, Lord Hutton, Alastair Campbell, the BBC governors and a number of other assorted enemies.

Mr Dyke has never accepted Lord Hutton's conclusions that Andrew Gilligan's report based on an interview with Dr David Kelly was "unfounded" and that the BBC's editorial system was "defective".

In his book, Inside Story, the former BBC chief tells of his mounting disbelief as he read the report the day before its official publication on 28 January.

"I read the summary of his conclusions in total disbelief. This man was not on the same planet as the rest of us."

But it is Mr Dyke's account of his relationship with Mr Blair that will attract most attention. A former Labour donor who even financially supported Mr Blair's leadership bid, Mr Dyke reveals the Prime Minister sought to change BBC coverage on Iraq even before Gilligan's fateful broadcast.

He reveals that the Prime Minister sent personal letters to both himself and Gavyn Davies, the former BBC chairman, complaining about the corporation's coverage.

"It seems to me that there has been a real breakdown of the separation of news and comment," Mr Blair wrote.

"I believe ... that you have not got the balance right between support and dissent."

Mr Dyke claims that Mr Blair was forced into writing the letter by Mr Campbell and subsequently regretted it.

It was, however, his own robust reply to Mr Blair rejecting outright his complaint that led to a state of open hostilities between Downing Street and the BBC, he admits.

His account of the subsequent battles over the Gilligan report contain little by way of startling revelation.

He does, however, suggest that Mr Blair hinted several times that he agreed that Mr Campbell had gone too far in pursuing his campaign against the Corporation.

It is for the former Downing Street director of communications that Mr Dyke reserves his strongest censure.

He says that Mr Campbell's denunciation of BBC "lying" the day after the Hutton publication amounted to a betrayal by Mr Blair that he would not call for resignations.

Of Mr Blair's former director of communications, he writes: "[He] was as pompous as it's possible to imagine. He was a deranged, vindictive bastard."

Mr Dyke, a former personal friend of the Blairs, details how even Cherie Blair turned on him in the heat of the fight. He tells of an encounter at Wimbledon at which she "looked straight through me as if I didn't exist".

Former favours, such as the time she had asked for a discounted Manchester United shirt for her son, were long forgotten, it seems. The former director general also takes a sideswipe at a number of BBC Governors who he blames for buckling under government pressure to oust him from his job.

He names Dame Pauline Neville-Jones (a former chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee), Lord Ryder of Wensum and Baroness Hogg as among those leading moves to get rid of him in the wake of Lord Hutton's report.

Mr Dyke says that the Prime Minister has privately expressed regret that he was forced out.

"He's let it be known since that he didn't want me to go. But I no longer regard Blair as someone I trust." Mr Dyke's account, for which he received a reported advance of £500,000, attracted close attention from lawyers for HarperCollins, who only cleared it for publication after a marathon five-day analysis.

One of the lawyers who read the book for libel was Heather Roberts, the barrister who represented Gilligan through the Hutton inquiry. Inside Story will be published on 20 September.

Within the corporation, there is a widely held view that the BBC has now moved on from Hutton, with new procedures in place and a change in staff among many of those most closely linked to the Gilligan affair. The new director general, Mark Thompson, although a personal friend of Mr Dyke, is said to have been aghast at his predecessor's preparations to win the renewal of the BBC's charter from the Government.

Mr Thompson, who came to the BBC from Channel 4, oversaw a complete re-write of the corporation's application for another 10-year period as the nation's public service broadcaster. "The original document was absolutely dreadful. It has had to be reworked from scratch," said a senior BBC figure.

Mr Dyke is also working on a Channel 4 documentary, which will be screened next month, to tie in with the memoirs and has been given access to the BBC's Television Centre in west London for filming.

The corporation made it clear to staff that they were free to take part in the programme without fear of any comeback, but many of the figures he had approached to interview were not keen to take part, much to Mr Dyke's chagrin.

They included Richard Sambrook, the BBC's head of news at the time of Gilligan's broadcast but now head of the World Service, although Gilligan himself was not asked to take part.

A BBC source said many of those involved in Hutton at the corporation are keen to put the episode behind them and move on. "We don't want to keep going over old ground," said the source.

Mr Dyke is being seen as a possible successor to Charles Allen, the chief executive of the merged ITV.

Many programmers at the commercial network believe Mr Dyke is the man to revive the company, which saw the market share of its main channel ITV1 sink to a new low in July.

Mr Dyke made his reputation in broadcasting when he was brought in to run the ailing TV-AM breakfast franchise and boosted its audience from 200,000 to 1.8 million within a year.

He went on to become director of programmes and then chief executive of London Weekend Television, where he made the company a leaner and more efficient organisation.

He left LWT after it was taken over by Granada. Then, after a spell running Pearson Television, he was appointed director general of the BBC in 1999.

He instituted cost-cutting measures which saw a clamp down on croissants at breakfast, as well as the use of taxis and chauffeur-driven cars for executives. It led to running costs at the corporation dropping from 24 per cent of its annual income to 15 per cent.

Mr Dyke, an informal, relaxed and popular leader, was renowned for being forthright and launched a campaign to "cut the crap" at the corporation in which staff were encouraged to try new ideas. One of his own radical notions was to scrap the Nine O'Clock News on BBC1 and shift the nightly bulletin to 10pm.