Thompson returns to BBC as its new director general

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The Independent Online

Mark Thompson, the chief executive of Channel 4, was named last night as the successor to Greg Dyke as director general of the BBC, despite having pledged that he would "turn down any approach" from the corporation.

The BBC Board of Governors unanimously backed Mr Thompson after a meeting yesterday afternoon during which they discussed the relative merits of the Channel 4 chief and Mark Byford, the acting director general.

The new BBC chairman, Michael Grade, who only took up his post on Monday, said the governors had been impressed by Mr Thompson's CV and his "commitment to the BBC's editorial mission".

Mr Thompson, 46, said he was "incredibly proud and privileged'' to be rejoining the BBC as its director general but the decision had been a "difficult personal one''. He said he went on the record last month to say that he would be remaining as chief executive of Channel 4 because that is what he felt at the time and that a "Sonia Gandhi'' moment had convinced him to return. "I joined this company as a trainee in 1979," he said. "If anyone had told me then that 25 years later I'd be sitting here as the organisation's director general designate I would have laughed in their faces.

"But I'm incredibly proud and privileged to be chosen to do this job for the BBC. The BBC is the greatest broadcasting organisation in the world. It's a unique treasure. Although my decision to come here has been a difficult personal one because I was having a wonderful time at Channel 4, I'm sure it's the right one for me.''

Mr Grade said: "We were impressed by Mark Thompson's analysis of the challenges facing the BBC and by his track-record. We concluded that he was the right person to lead the BBC at this important period in its history."

Tessa Jowell, the Culture and Media Secretary, described Mr Thompson as "one of our most distinguished public service broadcasters".

She added: "His experience, skills and enthusiasm will give renewed confidence and direction to the BBC."

Greg Dyke, who stood down as director general after the Hutton inquiry, also welcomed the appointment. "I would think he would make a very good director general and I think he is a very talented television executive who I have worked with in the past," he said.

He also took time to pay a tribute to Mr Byford, who he had appointed as his deputy late last year. Mr Dyke said: "I feel for Mark Byford, who I think was put in an impossible position and who has done a good job in incredibly difficult circumstances."

Among the other candidates who applied for the post were Jenny Abramsky, the BBC's director of radio, and John Willis, director of factual programming.

The decision to appoint Mr Thompson was no surprise despite his apparently unequivocal comments last month that: "I intend to stay at Channel 4. I will turn down any approach from the BBC."

Mr Thompson joined Channel 4 as chief executive more than two years ago. Before the move he was considered a "BBC lifer", having been at the corporation for 20 years. He rose from news and current affairs, being editor of Panorama and the Nine O'Clock News, to controller of BBC2 and finally director of television. He left in March 2002 and is said not to have applied for the director general's job when it was advertised.

Luke Johnson, Channel 4's chairman, said that Mr Thompson was expected to work until the channel had found a successor. He said: "Mark has been a tremendously effective and popular chief executive and there will be huge regret throughout Channel 4 at his departure. Mark is on six months' notice and my expectation is that he'll stay in the post until we're in a position to announce his successor."

The director general designate refused to comment on whether or not he had taken a pay cut to join the BBC. "The issue of the remuneration of members of the executive committee is a matter of public record in the BBC's annual report and it will be there for everyone to see when the report is published,'' Mr Thompson said.

Mr Grade said it was up to Channel 4 when Mr Thompson would be free to take up his post. "That's a matter of Channel 4 and obviously we'll be addressing that with sensitivity over the next few days,'' he said.