Enter Desmond, exit Airey – with a sting in her tail

Chief executive among first departures as new Channel 5 owner makes his mark
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Richard Desmond announced a savage programme of job cuts at the terrestrial television Channel 5 yesterday, just weeks after his £103.5m takeover of the loss-making broadcaster. He told the channel's 300 staff that up to a quarter of them would lose their jobs.

Its outgoing chief executive, Dawn Airey, will be one of seven executives to leave. She will take up an executive post with Channel 5 's former owner, RTL, but will stay on for "several months" as part of the transfer. Ms Airey wished the new owners "all the success they deserve". Six other directors and the broadcaster's PR chief will also leave the company, as will between 60 and 80 other staff.

Only two current executives will remain: Jeff Ford, an executive at the broadcaster's other two channels, Fiver and Five USA – who will take on the role of channel controller from Richard Woolfe – and Kelly Williams, who will remain as sales director.

This is the second round of cuts at Channel 5 in 17 months. In March last year, a quarter of staff lost their jobs. In a statement, the Northern & Shell group – owned by Mr Desmond – claimed that if ownership of Channel 5 had gone elsewhere, "it was feared that cuts would have been much harsher... maybe leaving as little as 20 per cent of the workforce in place".

Mr Desmond also announced his new acquisition would once again be known as Channel 5, as it was when it was launched in 1997.

Yesterday's announcement was the first major act in the reign of a man who recently declared himself "so rich, it is ridiculous". In an interview with The Independent in June, Mr Desmond, who used to pay himself £52m a year, said: "Everyone calls me a cost-cutter and it's actually not true: we are cost-conscious."

Ms Airey, nicknamed "Scary Airey", thanked her colleagues for the "dedication and commitment" she said they have shown to the broadcaster and for the support they have given her. "They have all made a significant contribution to leading Channel 5 towards a successful future," she added.

The job cuts were announced as part of a plan to merge Channel 5's operation into Mr Desmond's existing Northern & Shell group which includes the Express and Star newspaper titles.

Channel 5's staff will move to Northern & Shell's London offices in Lower Thames Street and in the Docklands. The broadcaster said staff consultations would begin immediately.

Mr Desmond said he was sorry to see Ms Airey leave, but said he was "thrilled" she would contribute to his "exciting plans", adding that she would "oversee the acquisition and development of brilliant new content". Channel 5 also announced plans for a £1.5bn investment in the station in the next five years in a bid to "go toe-to-toe with the biggest players in the TV world". The channel said it expected to see a focusing of resources on programme and content development as part of the investment programme.

A company statement read: "This is the first of many initiatives that will see a new streamlined Channel 5 make enormous strides. One area of particular importance is that of Project Canvas [an internet-connected TV platform with other broadcasters] and the amazing possibilities it opens up for viewers."

Who is Richard Desmond?

* Richard Desmond has built up an estimated fortune of £950m since he left school in north London at 16 to sell advertising. Within five years, he owned his own house and two record shops. "I've got so much money it's ridiculous," the 59-year-old tycoon said recently.

* His most notorious acts of business management include ordering a woman executive to stand in a cupboard when she was late for a meeting. She refused and resigned. He imitated the Nazi goose-step with a finger pressed to his nose during a meeting with Telegraph Group executives when a German firm was in the running to take over the paper. "I was having a laugh at their misfortunes," he claimed at the time.

* As a teenager he was a drummer in a progressive rock band. Today, he plays in The RD Crusaders, a charity group he founded with Roger Daltrey of The Who.