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
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Ramsay Bolton in Game of Thrones
tvSeries 5, Episode 3 review
News
peoplePair enliven the Emirates bore-draw
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (R) and Boris Johnson, mayor of London, talk on the Andrew Marr show in London April 26
General electionAndrew Marr forced to intervene as Boris and Miliband clash on TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
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

Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Urgent Requirement - Central Manchester

£20000 - £23000 per annum + 20 days holidays & pension: Ashdown Group: Marketi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Guru Careers: Social Media Executive / SEO Executive

£20 - 25K + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Social Media...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence