Media families 7. The Milnes

Alasdair Milne (former director-general of BBC) begat Seumas (journalis t) and Kirsty (journalist)

The first director-general of the BBC to be appointed in the Thatcher years, Alasdair Milne, also became the prime scapegoat for a corporate culture which the Thatcherites came to hate. On 29 January 1987, with 18 months left in his contract and a mutual option of a further two years after that, Milne was brutally fired by Marmaduke Hussey, after a routine meeting of the board of governors. "I am afraid this is going to be a very unpleasant interview," Hussey announced, his lip trembling, before inducing Milne to write a letter of resignation.

It was a stunning end to one of the corporation's most brilliant careers. Milne, educated at Winchester and Oxford, was in at the dawn of television current affairs, and as pioneering editor of programmes such as Highlight and Tonight did much to establish the corporation's domination in the field. His rapid rise after these achievements was recognition of how highly they were valued: he became successively Controller in Scotland, Director of Programmes, Managing Director and Deputy Director General before taking on the corporation's top job at the age of 51. His ritual execution paved the way for the rule of John Birt. So deeply had he offended the government that, despite his talents, he has effectively been shut out of public life ever since.

Yet as political scapegoats go, Alasdair Milne is remarkably apolitical - sentimentally patriotic about Scotland (he plays the bagpipes), liberal with a small "l", but innocent of ideology. It is ironical that such a mild figure should have been so thoroughly consumed in the Thatcherite bonfire, when out-and-out foes such as Arthur Scargill survived to fight another day.

Much more decided in his political stance is Seumas Milne, Alasdair Milne's younger son, labour correspondent of The Guardian and the author of a sympathetic biography of Scargill entitled The Enemy Within. Seumas, whose forename has been variously spelt Seamus, Seumus and Shaymus by his own paper, became characterised as a "far-left activist" and member of the Socialist Workers Party in September 1995, when he wrote in The Guardian about a memo, titled "The Unfinished Revolution", that had been leaked to him, exposing doubts about Tony Blair's leadership at the highest level inside the Labour Party.

The SWP smear proved to be fallout from a Neil Kinnock joke ("You know The Guardian," Kinnock had remarked to Blair, "written by the SWP, read by the SDP"). But there is no mistaking that Seumas is on the far left of the Labour Party, of which he has been a member for 20 years: Not One Of Us, as someone else might have put it. He is on the executive of the NUJ, a regular contributor to Tribune, and author (with Jonathan Michie) of a book on the left's economic programme, entitled Beyond the Casino Economy.

His sister, Kirsty, is also identified with the left, inevitably perhaps, considering that she has been a staff writer on the New Statesman since 1993. However Kirsty belongs to no party; and the fact that she was practically the sole survivor of the paper's sale last year to Geoffrey Robinson MP, not to mention the fact that she freelances for the likes of the Sunday Telegraph and The Times, lends substance to her claim that she is above the fray.

Like many daughters of media celebs, Kirsty sometimes finds the connection irksome. She likes to point out that her first lucky break, getting a job with New Society, came several months after her dad had been booted out of the Beeb; and that, although she is very proud of both father and brother, she does her own thing. "It's incredibly trying that people assume you think the same way and share stories and talk about everything," she declaresn

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