John Humphrys vs George Entwistle: A humiliating interview, and a career was at an end

Humphrys destroyed his boss in a memorable encounter on the ‘Today’ programme, and within hours Entwistle did the honourable thing and quit

It was, George Entwistle declared on the day he became BBC Director General, “one of the best television jobs in the world, if not the best”. A consummate BBC man, even before entering the corporation 23 years earlier, the understated Yorkshireman made it clear to all from the start that he had finally reached the summit of his ambitions.

After more than two decades in Broadcasting House, however, he was not blind to the many failings of the BBC in a hostile world. "I both love the BBC and, at times, find it an immensely frustrating place," Mr Entwistle, 50, said in his application for the top job.

"My hunch is that there isn't a single bit of the BBC that, in places, can't do better."

If George Entwistle had any plans to improve the corporation, he never had the time to lay them out, let alone put them into action. Successive firestorms over sex abuse claims surrounding Jimmy Savile and the Bryn Estyn children's home raised fundamental questions about the standard of BBC journalism, and fatally undermined his credibility. The new DG spent much of his short tenure facing down MPs and journalists in an attempt to defend the BBC and his own position. But a mauling yesterday morning at the hands of one of his own employees, John Humphrys, was the last straw.

After two short months in the chair, the man who arrived talking about how the BBC could improve, last night managed to leave the corporation looking considerably worse.

"I feel so disillusioned that such a man can rise without trace to be Director General," the former culture secretary, David Mellor, said as the vultures closed in on Mr Entwistle yesterday. "He came across as so out of touch, it made me think Winnie the Pooh would have been more effective."

It was a cutting assessment of a man whose association with the corporation went back to his schooldays, when he addressed a youthful complaint about the rescheduling of Tom & Jerry – to accommodate coverage of Roy Jenkins's 1969 Budget – to "the derector" of the BBC.

Mr Entwistle told the Radio Times that his father, a lecturer, did not send the letter of complaint about the cartoon, but handed it to his son more than 40 years later, when he applied for the high-profile job of running the BBC. He said: "My father, underneath, had written Broadcasting House, London, and then failed to post it – very typical of my dad."

Yet, despite his much-professed devotion to the BBC, Mr Entwistle was a latecomer to the corporation, arriving as a broadcasting trainee in 1989 – at the third attempt – five years after graduating from Durham University. In the intervening years, he had worked as a writer and editor at Haymarket Magazines, where he is chiefly remembered for his classical music reviews and his contributions to What Hi-Fi?. It was a radical change in subject matter; Mr Entwistle swiftly moved into current affairs with Panorama and On the Record. Where once he wrote about recitals and sound systems, he now covered weightier issues including the first Gulf War and the fall of Margaret Thatcher.

Contemporaries remember the now thirtysomething Mr Entwistle as "a willing young pup", never quite displaying the charisma of more exalted colleagues on the other side of the camera. "Always keen to get involved, but always interested in management as well as pure news," one recalled. "George was popular and ambitious, but not threatening. It always looked like he wanted to get on, but he was never what you would call a natural leader."

But he did get on. In 1994, only five years after arriving at the BBC, he joined its flagship current affairs programme, Newsnight. Over the next decade, he rose from its producer to become the programme's editor, officially taking charge the day before the 9/11 attacks in 2001.

Critics have complained that disaster has followed Mr Entwistle ever since. Earlier this year, as director of BBC Vision, he had responsibility for the coverage of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, which attracted more than 4,500 complaints, mainly about the tone of the presentation at the River Pageant.

Yet Mr Entwistle can point to significant achievements, particularly in relation to his stewardship of a new Topical Arts Unit from 2004, where he launched BBC2's The Culture Show and executive-produced arts films. As head and commissioning editor of TV Current Affairs, he commissioned documentary series including The Conspiracy Files and Michael Cockerell's series Blair: The Inside Story and made the fateful decision to bring Panorama back to a weekday peak-time slot. In his next role, as acting controller of BBC4, Mr Entwistle was in charge of the channel during the first runs of Mad Men and Flight of the Conchords.

Yet, for a man who had filled so many roles within the BBC, his position as DG, officially confirmed in July, quickly began to look like a job too far. He was not in charge early this year when Newsnight canned a proposed piece on allegations that the late BBC presenter Jimmy Savile had been a child abuser, but after ITV ran the story, Mr Entwistle's actions appeared indecisive and slow – a fact he himself conceded in his interview on the Today programme yesterday. As the corporation descended into chaos, with BBC programmes investigating each other and interviewing their own bosses, Mr Entwistle shuttled between television studios and parliamentary committees attempting to explain their actions.

The lull following a reshuffle of Newsnight management and the announcement of separate inquiries into the Savile episode turned out to be a stay of execution. After he was forced to apologise for a second Newsnight controversy after the programme falsely implicated the former treasurer of the Tory party, Lord McAlpine, in a child abuse scandal, Mr Entwistle was again left battling for his job. This time, in his second BBC interview in a few weeks – this time with Mr Humphrys, rather than a genteel board of BBC grandees – he failed miserably to impress.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
tv
Sport
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Voices
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
music
News
A poster by Durham Constabulary
news
Sport
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
art
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvBadalamenti on board for third series
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

Guru Careers: Senior Account Manager / SAM

£30 - 35k: Guru Careers: A Senior Account Manager / SAM is needed to join the ...

Ashdown Group: Digital Marketing Manager (EMEA) - City, London

£55000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Digital Marketing Manager...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine