Tim Davie might only be acting Director-General of the BBC but he spent much of his first day setting out his credentials for taking the job full-time.
“I have to be very clear as Director-General,” he rather presumptuously told the BBC News home editor Mark Easton, before going on to refer to himself repeatedly as “the man in charge” and endlessly express his intention to “get a grip”, thus choosing the very words that had been used a day earlier by the Chairman of the BBC Trust Lord Patten, who will appoint the next Director-General.
Mr Davie’s first act on his first day was to set up a new chain of command at BBC News which had the effect of sidelining the director of news Helen Boaden, who had been one of Mr Davie’s rivals in the last race for the Director-General’s job.
It was a decisive gesture by a fiercely ambitious man who is clearly determined to show from the outset that he is capable of leading from the front.
“The BBC deserves strong leadership and that is what I intend to bring,” he said, during a rapid round of broadcast interviews.
He took charge of a report into the latest Newsnight scandal from the BBC director for Scotland Ken MacQuarrie, but said he was not going to rush too hastily into any disciplinary processes. “I’ve just come into the job,” he noted.
It was not all plain sailing. Mr Davie might be running the BBC but he is not a television person. His background is in marketing and his appearance on Sky News exposed his lack of experience in front of the cameras – and a failure to grasp the damaging potential of rolling news footage – as he abruptly curtailed an interview with presenter Dermot Murnaghan. “Anyway I will go now because I’ve got a lot to do … I’ve got a job and I’m going to get on with it, thank you Dermot…”
With which parting words the acting Director-General exited, taking off his microphone, as the presenter vainly tried to ascertain if further BBC heads would roll. “Bet he wouldn’t do that to the BBC,” grumbled Murnaghan to his audience, well knowing he had a clip that would play out very nicely for the rest of the day.
Mr Davie, as he himself pointed out to Sky, is “a man from corporate life”, who was brought to the BBC as marketing chief specifically because of the commercial nous he had acquired at PepsiCo and Procter & Gamble. He was generous yesterday in his praise of his “honourable” predecessor George Entwistle but is undoubtedly confident that he will not wilt in the same way under pressure.
Mr Davie, after all, is someone who actively enjoys putting himself through the pain barrier. He once ran 26 miles across moving ice and snow to complete the North Pole marathon – one of only 38 finishers. His disappointment at coming fourth was offset by being the best-placed Briton. He then boarded a plane to the Sahara Desert to take on the Marathon des Sables, known as the toughest foot race in the world. At 45 he is five years younger than Entwistle and 10 years younger than the previous Director-General, Mark Thompson.
One of the few things Mr Entwistle was able to do in his short tenure running the BBC was to appoint Mr Davie as head of BBC Worldwide, the organisation’s commercial arm.
The role, which Mr Davie is due to take up at the end of the year, is further recognition of his capabilities in the rough-and-tumble business world where the BBC will increasingly have to earn its living in the future.
But Mr Davie, who has three children, does not just want to be known as the commercial face of the BBC. His most recent role, as director of music and audio, again showed his willingness to step outside his comfort zone. Though he blundered by threatening to close down BBC6 Music as a cost-cutting measure, he is regarded as having done a good job.
Weeks after taking the role in 2008 he was forced into the public spotlight, virtually for the first time, by the uproar created by abusive phone messages left by Radio 2’s Russell Brand and his BBC colleague Jonathan Ross for the actor Andrew Sachs.
Unlike George Entwistle recently, Mr Davie was able to ride out that storm. Clearly he believes he can cope with much more.