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.

News
The cartoon produced by Bruce MacKinnon for the Halifax Chronicle-Herald on Thursday, showing the bronze soldiers of the war memorial in Ottawa welcoming Corporal Cirillo into their midst
news
Voices
Funds raised from the sale of poppies help the members of the armed forces with financial difficulties
voicesLindsey German: The best way of protecting soldiers is to stop sending them into disastrous conflicts
Voices
Nigel Farage has backed DJ Mike Read's new Ukip song
voicesNigel Farage: Where is the Left’s outrage over the sexual abuse of girls in the North of England?
Property
One bedroom terraced house for sale, Richmond Avenue, Islington, London N1. On with Winkworths for £275,000.
property
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
The Edge and his wife, Morleigh Steinberg, at the Academy Awards in 2014
peopleGuitarist faces protests over plan to build mansions in Malibu
News
i100
News
peopleFox presenter gives her less than favourable view of women in politics
News
Mario Balotelli has been accused of 'threateningly' telling a woman to stop photographing his Ferrari
peoplePolice investigate claim Balotelli acted 'threateningly' towards a woman photographing his Ferrari
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
Voices
Don’t try this at home: DIY has now fallen out of favour
voicesNick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of it
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

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £30000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Do you feel like your sales role...

International Promotions Manager - Consumer Products

competitive + bonus + benefits: Sauce Recruitment: A global entertainment busi...

Head of Finance - Media

£80000 - £90000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: Working for an International Mul...

Media Sales executive - Crawley

£25k + commission + benefits: Savvy Media Ltd: Find a job you love and never h...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again