Puttnam lined up to succeed Grade as chairman of the BBC

Lord Puttnam, the former film producer, appears almost certain to throw his hat into the ring to become the new chairman of the BBC, as tomorrow's deadline for applications approaches.

The Labour peer and favourite for the post confirmed yesterday that he was one of a large number of people who had been contacted by headhunters hired by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

Although Lord Puttnam, 65, declined to say whether he was going to apply formally, stressing that many other likely candidates had also been approached, he disclosed he was writing an article for this week's Spectator magazine on why the position was so important. And he gave a clue to his thinking by adding: "It is a very, very important job. I feel this very strongly. It is an important time for me and an important time for the BBC generally.''

Lord Puttnam acknowledged that his article might be viewed by some as his manifesto for the job, but he went on: "One thing I have learned is that people can interpret whatever they want out of something.'' He said it was "farcical" that the application process for such an important job was being discussed in newspaper diary columns "as though it was something in William Hill's". Currently deputy chairman of Channel 4 - a post he would have to give up - Lord Puttnam is said to have been very disappointed when he failed to get the job in the past.

The job was advertised at the beginning of January and follows the departure in December of Michael Grade, who defected to ITV. The new appointment coincides with the re-shaping of the board of governors into the BBC Trust, which will have more of a regulatory role than before. The new chairman is expected to act more as the licence fee-payers' representative than as a figurehead for the BBC itself.

The job of running the recruitment process has been handed by the DCMS to the executive headhunters Odgers Ray and Berndtson. The shortlist of candidates will be interviewed by a panel appointed by the DCMS, expected to include a senior civil servant and an independent assessor. The panel will probably recommend two names to Tessa Jowell, the Culture Secretary. The final name has to be approved by Downing Street and is announced by Buckingham Palace. The four-day-a-week job carries a pay packet of £140,000.

A DCMS spokeswoman said she was unable to confirm the names of anyone who had been approached. An announcement is not expected until the spring.

While many might see Lord Puttnam, with his background in film production, as a good candidate, his strong and close links with the New Labour establishment make him a controversial choice among critics who believe the BBC already has a left-wing liberal bias.

Other candidates who are believed to have applied or to be considering applying include the veteran broadcaster David Dimbleby and Richard Lambert, a former editor of the Financial Times. Others who have been linked with the post, but have implied that they are not in the running include the former arts minister Chris Smith, due to become chairman of the Advertising Standards Authority, and Richard Eyre, the former chief executive of ITV and Capital Radio, who has said that he believes the job would be "far less interesting" than before.

Oscar-winner turned Labour establishment figure

* David Puttnam, otherwise known as Lord Puttnam of Queensgate in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, was part of the generation of former advertising industry executives - others included Alan Parker and Ridley Scott - who revitalised the British film industry in the 1970s. Lord Puttnam, who turns 66 next month, became a producer of multi-award-winning films such as Bugsy Malone, Midnight Express, (both directed by Parker) Chariots of Fire, which won the best picture Oscar, Local Hero and The Killing Fields. Recruited by Hollywood to become chairman of Colombia Pictures in the late 1980s he was less successful and lasted only two years. He recently disclosed that he believed his failure was due to ME, or chronic fatigue syndrome, a condition from which he has suffered for many years.

He was made a life peer by Tony Blair in 1997 and sits on the Labour benches. He has been on a number of government task forces, including ones on education and the creative industries.

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