Two of the British television industry's most outspoken figures look set to face each other in court. Michael Grade, the executive chairman of ITV, has issued a libel writ against the former BBC director general Greg Dyke.
Mr Grade is suing his old rival over comments he made in a column published by The Times newspaper last month, two days after ITV announced that it was shedding 600 jobs and cutting its budget by £135m after recording a £2.7bn pre-tax loss for the financial year.
Mr Dyke's column, printed on 7 March under the headline "Grade's ITV is in a classic lose-lose situation", made a series of allegations about Mr Grade's professional conduct while he was chairman of the BBC's board of governors immediately before he resigned to take over at ITV at the end of 2006. The piece also criticised Mr Grade's role in managing the commercial broadcaster's finances.
Shortly after the column was published, Mr Grade's lawyers wrote to The Times accusing it of, "serious defamation" and requesting that it print an apology, which has so far failed to appear. As a result, Mr Grade is suing Times Newspapers as well as Mr Dyke. The online version of the article is still available on the newspaper's website, but has since been edited.
After Mr Grade's initial letter, the newspaper's lawyer issued a statement that said: "The Times has no wish to be involved in any sort of dispute with Michael Grade.
"There is no bad feeling, or any history we are aware of. We very much wish to resolve this without litigation – but we will also defend our position, if we feel we should."
Both Mr Dyke and Mr Grade resigned separately from the BBC under controversial circumstances, and have a long-held rivalry. Both have also been quick to rebuff criticism of their editorial practices in the past, so if the case does reach court it is likely to produce verbal fireworks.
Mr Dyke, who also had a long career in commercial television, resigned as the BBC's director general after the Hutton report into the death of the weapons scientist David Kelly. It said that the corporation – and specifically one of its journalists, Andrew Gilligan – had made errors in reporting claims that the Government's case for going to war with Iraq had been "sexed up". Three months later, Mr Grade took over as chairman of the BBC from Gavyn Davies, who had quit the day before Mr Dyke.
Neither Mr Grade nor Mr Dyke could be contacted to comment last night.