The thin controller

Peter Fincham will enjoy his work as BBC1 controller, says Daisy Goodwin
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The Independent Online

I first met Peter when I was working at the BBC. In those days, Talkback seemed like the epitome of showbiz as opposed to the Stalinist grimness of the Corporation. It was in a lovely Georgian building with lots of sofas and comedians running in and out. He hired me because I had been producing Griff Rhys Jones, and anybody who could produce Griff and was still smiling could probably handle working at Talkback. I'd spent a few afternoons hanging out in Talkback writers' room and we just clicked.

I first met Peter when I was working at the BBC. In those days, Talkback seemed like the epitome of showbiz as opposed to the Stalinist grimness of the Corporation. It was in a lovely Georgian building with lots of sofas and comedians running in and out. He hired me because I had been producing Griff Rhys Jones, and anybody who could produce Griff and was still smiling could probably handle working at Talkback. I'd spent a few afternoons hanging out in Talkback writers' room and we just clicked.

Peter has an extraordinary capacity for working with difficult talent in such a way that they feel loved and looked after. Just look at the talented people he's worked with, like Chris Morris, Steve Coogan, Armando Iannucci, Sacha Baron Cohen and Stephen Poliakoff. All these people are very demanding, but Peter made it look easy. I'm not in that league, obviously, but even my best friends would call me high maintenance, and Peter's always understood the importance of letting me do what I do best. He's not someone who looks to lead from the front. His style is altogether silkier. He's an opportunist. He's got an agent's mentality. He's a tough negotiator, but he's always extremely charming.

Peter hasn't come through a conventional route. His strength is that he has got a much more varied take on things. But you should always remember that he comes from a long line of accountants - his father and grandfather were accountants - so he understands and respects money.

Under him, BBC1 will be classy. Peter is not by nature a shiny floor man, but he knows how to make shiny floor work. By conviction, Peter's probably more of a Channel 4 man, but at Thames he ran The Bill, Family Affairs and Pop Idol, and he knows how to make that kind of television. He won't be sentimental about BBC1. The only way he will take it is upmarket. You're not going to see plastic surgery on BBC1. He would never make it tawdry.

It's particularly important for the BBC at this time to have someone who has worked on the outside. So many people at the BBC are lifers and they think in a self-referential way that Peter does not. He's not there to make money; he's got stacks from the sale of Talkback. He's there because he's interested in television.

I don't think this is a stepping stone to anywhere else; he just loves the idea of having a really big train set to play with. It's an easier transition from being a seller to being a buyer than it is the other way round. I don't think Talkback will get any special treatment under Peter. In fact, he will probably go out of his way to make sure we don't.

Peter is funny, tactful, intelligent and amazingly good at keeping secrets. He's a rare beast in television in that he doesn't mind laughing at himself. He got teased a lot at Talkback, particularly during his diet and exercise phase when we gave him a very hard time over his personal trainer.

He's very keen on gadgets. If anybody got a new phone, they would come back after lunch and find Peter with something smaller and more groovy. He's a BlackBerry addict.

He's not somebody who tells you about Dante in the original, but he's very unusual in a man of his age in that he reads a lot of novels. Last year, TalkbackThames was one of the sponsors of the Hay-on-Wye literary festival. It's only a really confident company that will spend lots of money on the arts.

When I first went to Talkback, he told me he was trying to decide between buying a Volvo Coupe or an Aston Martin, and in the end he bought the Volvo, which is unobtrusively classy, rather than ostentatious.

In his dress sense, Peter is one of the few middle-aged men around who don't make dressed-down look embarrassing. He's got a very stylish line in custom-made Paul Smith suits, like the Prime Minister. In fact, it has been said that the similarity doesn't stop there. But while the Prime Minister may be losing his control of the black arts of spin, Peter understands the messages he gives out, which is going to be important at the BBC. It's not just what you do, it's how you do it.

Peter's very prudent and cautious. He got married relatively late. Peter is one of those people in life who has played a long game. He and Björn Borg are the same age and he likes to say that when they were both 21, Borg was an international tennis star and he was a struggling musician. Now Peter is a millionaire running a national broadcaster and who knows where Borg is.

I'm incredibly sad not to be working with him anymore. Now he's controller of BBC1, I will have to be nice to him all the time. Maybe that's why he's taken the job.

Daisy Goodwin is editorial director of talkbackThames

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