Platform 6: John Tusa appears to believe that he, not John Birt, should be running the BBC

I am not, by inclination, a believer in golden ages, but I am convinced that if the World Service had a golden age it was during the time when John Tusa was managing director (1986-92). John Tusa agrees with this, but the trouble is that he seems to believe this was entirely down to him.

It wasn't. Over the years Tusa had more than his fair share of luck and the backing of some highly skilled deputies. Additionally, world events conspired to persuade Margaret Thatcher that the World Service was somehow not part of the despised BBC and therefore was worthy of generous additional funding.

Tusa's great strengths as head of the World Service were his extraordinary charisma, his effortless ability to move in circles at all levels of society, and his inspirational leadership. But much of this would have been for naught without the other two members of the World Service triumvirate: his deputy managing director, David Witherow, and the man responsible for strategy, Anthony Rendall. Their contribution was to dissuade Tusa from his visionary excesses while developing and implementing those ideas that could be made to work.

For most of us at Bush House, working with John Tusa was both uplifting and fun, but his many friends and admirers also recognise that he is in possession of a substantial ego garnished with a generous serving of vanity: he appears to believe, apparently without qualification, that he, not John Birt, should be running the BBC.

It is here the problem lies: the two Johns dislike each other with a vengeance, having fallen out very soon after John Birt was recruited from London Weekend Television to be deputy director-general. They are very different people, but they share two key personality traits: both are driven by a need for public recognition; both are apparently devoid of self-doubt.

The animosity between Birt and Tusa now gives every appearance of being the driving force behind Tusa's continued backing for the Save the World Service campaign. Does he truly think that the restructuring, imposed without warning a year ago, can now be undone? Or is he simply creating mischief for Birt, with the side benefit of some personal publicity for himself?

There seems every chance that history will judge John Birt's stewardship of the BBC very harshly. He has much to answer for, not least his destruction of any sense of true loyalty to what was (and to some extent still is) one of the world's finest organisations, broadcasting or otherwise, But we won't know for sure, perhaps for a decade or more.

In a recent essay in The Guardian, John Tusa accuses Birt and the BBC chairman, Sir Christopher Bland, of Thatcherite behaviour, and adds, "Thatcherism is history.'' Yet he behaves like the Lady herself in constantly implying that his successors at Bush House have somehow failed to show the backbone, imagination and managerial skill that he would have displayed were he still in charge.

The clear message from his written and spoken pronouncements is that he would have seen off Birt; but he fails to recognise the completeness of last year's iron-fisted revolution.

The present managing director of the World Service, Sam Younger, has been confronted by an appalling situation, with problems that John Tusa had the good fortune never to face. Younger was hardly in place before he had to fight off an unsuccessful attempt by the Foreign Office to renege on part of the agreed funding. Then he found himself publicly humiliated by John Birt, who kept him in the dark about the restructuring until the very last moment.

There is no denying that Younger failed to show the leadership his staff expected of him in the days immediately after the restructuring was announced. He appeared a beaten man who had no idea what to do next. But the chorus of calls - made with the strongly implied backing of Tusa - that Younger should have made a principled stand by resigning were ludicrous; to have done so would have been instantly self-defeating. Anyone who has watched the way the present DG works knows that the resignation would have been accepted with enthusiasm and alacrity and that a Birt placeman would have been in Bush House by the end of that day's business.

A manager more flamboyant than Younger could arguably have handled the situation with greater imagination, but that doesn't mean that he is intrinsically a bad manager. From my experience he is not. He is a capable, friendly person from a solid production and management background. He understands his global audience and has a genuine long-term loyalty to the World Service and its staff. Given a different set of circumstances, his position would be unquestioned and entirely secure.

Younger has much to be proud of. Although in charge of an organisation going through an identity crisis, anyone listening to the service, as I do frequently, will recognise that its programmes are increasingly modern and audience-friendly, with their authority undiminished. The latest figures show an audience of 143 million regular listeners, up 23 million since John Tusa's day. The internal structures may be going through radical and disruptive changes, but the programmes continue to satisfy and pull in the crowds.

Tusa should now ask himself whether his actions are really helping the BBC World Service. In my view he should back off and let things be. He has what I assume is a full-time job as managing director of the Barbican Centre. No doubt the Barbican staff would welcome the knowledge that they have his full attention

The writer is a former senior editor with World Service Radio and Television. He left the BBC last year and is now a freelance writer, lecturer and producer.

Suggested Topics
A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
New Real Madrid signing James Rodríguez with club president Florentino Perez
sportColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Hotel Tour d’Auvergne in Paris launches pay-what-you-want
travelIt seems fraught with financial risk, but the policy has its benefits
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
Life and Style
News to me: family events were recorded in the personal columns
techFamily events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped that
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Web / Digital Analyst - SiteCatalyst or Google Analytics

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client who are a leading publisher in...

Data Scientist

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A data analytics are currently looking t...

Graduate Sales Executive

17.5k + Commission (£18.5k after probation period): ESI Media: You will be res...

PPC Account Managers

£25k - £30k (DOE): Guru Careers: Two expert PPC Account Managers are needed to...

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn