The tragic story of a good man brought down by a basic lack of journalistic curiosity

Entwistle stunned Humphrys by revealing he 'was out' when Newsnight aired

If it was curiosity that killed the cat, then it was surely a lack of that most basic of journalistic instincts that did for George Entwistle, who will go down in BBC annals as the organisation's shortest-serving Director-General.

His reluctance to know the story, apparently preferring the information vacuum of an insulated management bubble, was astonishing to colleagues in BBC News. "You have no natural curiosity?" asked an incredulous John Humphrys on Saturday morning as he grilled Entwistle on his failure to spot the danger of Newsnight's flawed broadcast on child abuse in North Wales.

He then caused Humphrys even further astonishment by blithely adding that he "was out" when the timebomb of a programme went to air on 2 November. How could a former editor of that same flagship news brand be so uninterested in the news? Entwistle had shown a similar taste for ignorance over Newsnight's Jimmy Savile investigation, declining to ask Helen Boaden for more information after she warned him he could have a "scheduling problem" for the tribute programmes he was overseeing last year. Entwistle didn't want to be seen to be interfering.

Entwistle's arrival in the top job, just 54 days before his resignation speech on Saturday night, was almost universally seen as good thing. The former head of BBC Four and BBC Knowledge appeared to have the intellectual rigour to oversee the delivering of high-quality public-service programming. He had strong journalistic credentials and, as a programme-maker, the support of the staff. A nice guy, hardly anyone had a bad word to say about George.

He had wanted to run the BBC since childhood. At the age of six he wrote to the "Derector of the BBC" to complain about the scheduling of Tom and Jerry.

Entwistle, 50, was appointed with the difficult tasks of implementing serious budget cuts and planning for the negotiation of the BBC's licence fee beyond 2016. But he inherited an organisation in fine reputational fettle after its coverage of the London Olympics that was almost as well received as the performance of Team GB itself.

In his resignation speech, he spoke of his belief that he had been "the right person to tackle the challenges and opportunities ahead" but had been defeated by "wholly exceptional events".

Hours before Remembrance Sunday, he talked of doing the "honourable thing" in resigning, noting that as head of the BBC's editorial chain of command, he should take "ultimate responsibility" for a false story.

But unlike former Director-General Greg Dyke, who fell on his sword in 2004 over Radio 4's controversial report on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, Entwistle should have had more than a nominal role in the story.

He didn't brief himself on the Newsnight Savile investigation despite his responsibility for tribute shows about the Jim'll Fix It presenter. The lack of insight prompted Private Eye to suggest that the bespectacled Director of Vision "should have gone to Specsavers". Neither did he read press reports last week about inaccuracies in Newsnight's North Wales story, because he was too busy working on a speech.

Time and again, he reminded Humphrys of the scale of his new role and how he couldn't be expected to know all that was going on in the BBC. Struggling to get up to speed with his wide-ranging responsibilities in the top job, he could not cope with a journalistic crisis.

"It's a real tragedy that he was overwhelmed, as we all were to a great extent, by these events before he was able to act in a way which is clearly necessary," said Lord Patten. Losing such a valuable servant is a great loss to the BBC. He had promised to deliver "more Shakespeare" and more coverage of women's sport. Now such things will be a matter for his successor.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Top Gun actor Val Kilmer lost his small claims court battle in Van Nuys with the landlord of his Malibu mansion to get back his deposit after wallpapering over the kitchen cabinets
people
News
Comedian Ted Robbins collapsed on stage during a performance of Phoenix Nights Live at Manchester Arena (Rex)
people
News
The actress Geraldine McEwan was perhaps best known for playing Agatha Christie's detective, Miss Marple (Rex)
peopleShe won a Bafta in 1991 for her role in Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit
News
newsPatrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
News
Robert Fraser, aka Groovy Bob
peopleA new show honours Robert Fraser, one of the era's forgotten players
Life and Style
Torsten Sherwood's Noook is a simple construction toy for creating mini-architecture
tech
Sport
David Silva celebrates with Sergio Aguero after equalising against Chelsea
footballChelsea 1 Manchester City 1
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Ashdown Group: Lead Web Developer (ASP.NET, C#) - City of London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Lead Web Develo...

Recruitment Genius: External Relations Executive

£33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An External Relations Executive is requi...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Project Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This established Digital Agency based in East ...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links