New Channel 4 chief plans 'big, bold' programmes

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The Independent Online

Mark Thompson, the new chief executive of Channel 4, gave a taste of his regime yesterday, saying he wanted more "really big projects" on the scale of the forthcoming £10m historical drama Shackleton.

He said he supported the channel's decision to screen the controversial Brass Eye paedophile spoof documentary, for which it was ordered to broadcast an apology to viewers. "Brass Eye was a good example of what Channel 4 is here to do," he said.

Mr Thompson, who is moving from the post of director of television at the BBC, was chosen from 10 candidates, who all had interviews of two to four hours with the Channel 4 board. The board voted unanimously in favour of Mr Thompson for the £400,000-plus post.

He will take up his new job in March next year. Meanwhile, Greg Dyke, director general of the BBC, has appointed Sophie Turner-Laing, head of programme acquisition, as acting director of television.

Mr Thompson, who has spent his entire career at the BBC, said at a press conference yesterday he was "proud and chuffed" to be given the opportunity to lead Channel 4 into what would be a "challenging future".

While remaining extremely guarded on specific programming plans for the future, he said he was committed to the creativity and innovation for which the channel had become renowned.

He said: "I am very proud and chuffed to be asked to lead Channel 4. It is a beacon of creativity, innovation and independence. It has had a great past, but has even greater future potential. I look forward to the challenge of realising that potential in full digital media, while staying true to the values that have made the channel such an important cultural asset for British viewers."

Referring to the need for more "big, bold" programming projects on the channel, such as the epic Antarctic adventure Shackleton and David Starkey's The Six Wives Of Henry VIII, he said: "This is a moment in television history in which big, bold programmes really punch through. I think that would really strengthen the schedule."

Critics have recently accused Channel 4 of abandoning its public service remit in favour of a more popular style of programming.

Mr Thompson said the creativity and freedom offered by the channel meant originality did not have to be compromised in the pursuit of more viewers. Programmes such as Big Brother were original but still attracted large audiences. "You can bring real originality and creativity to bear on programmes that can also be very popular," he said.

He added that there was no truth in reports that he did not get on with the Channel 4 director of programmes, Tim Gardam, with whom he worked at the BBC.

"I have never had an argument with him in my life, despite what I read in the papers," he said. "He is an outstanding director of programmes. He is brilliant and has real imagination about programmes, which I can only envy and now hope to exploit."