My Mentor: Peter Salmon on Alan Yentob

'On occasion his elusive behaviour called for desperate measures'
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The Independent Online

Alan Yentob, for all his infuriating ways, including his chronic lateness, name-dropping and often intimidating manner, has been quite simply a beacon of inspiration. During his time as controller he reinvented and reinvigorated BBC2.

I was then running BBC Bristol's factual department. Initially when I worked in BBC2 it had seemed a stuffy place. But then this young tyro swept into the channel, with a fearsome reputation as an innovative programme-maker, and began to change everything. Commissioning sessions could start as much as three hours late. Pitching was like a firework display, colourful, vibrant and with several loud bangs. He could be a tough critic but also an unstinting supporter if he felt you got it. He could also be dictatorial, sometimes a bit bombastic. But you felt that was because he seemed to have such a grasp of what he wanted.

He commissioned strange and exotic tastes such as Small Objects of Desire. He committed to several hours of Russian documentaries called The Last Days of Leningrad, got behind our big pop history series Dancing in the Street, but also knew ratings winners when he saw them in series such as Secret World of Sex.

On occasion his elusive behaviour called for desperate measures. When I was intent on stealing a young student animator from Channel 4 called Nick Park I couldn't get a meeting with Alan to secure the development money, so I climbed into his chauffeur-driven car and waited two hours for him to finish lunch. When Alan got in he didn't seem surprised and coughed up before we got back to TV Centre.

Peter Salmon is a former BBC1 controller. Alan Yentob is the BBC's creative director

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