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.

News
Russell Brand was in typically combative form during his promotional interview with Newsnight's Evan Davis
peopleReports that Brand could stand for Mayor on an 'anti-politics' ticket
News
The clocks go forward an hour at 1am on Sunday 30 March
news
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning? Apparently not.
News
Voluminous silk drawers were worn by Queen Victoria
newsThe silk underwear is part of a growing trade in celebrity smalls
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
footballMatch report: Real fight back to ruin Argentinian's debut
News
Candidates with surnames that start with an A have an electoral advantage
newsVoters are biased towards names with letters near start of alphabet
Arts and Entertainment
Isis with Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville)
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jay James
TVReview: Performances were stale and cheesier than a chunk of Blue Stilton left out for a month
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

Head of Business Development and Analytics - TV

competitive benefits: Sauce Recruitment: Outstanding analytic expertise is req...

Head of ad sales international - Broadcast

competitive + bonus + benefits: Sauce Recruitment: Are you the king or Queen o...

Business Development Manager Content/Subscriptions

£50k + commission: Savvy Media Ltd: Great opportunity to work for a team that ...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £30000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Do you feel like your sales role...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?