New BBC boss declares: it’s not Vision, it's Television

Former Culture Secretary, James Purnell, who tried to oust Gordon Brown as PM handed senior role by new DG

A former Culture Secretary who tried to force Gordon Brown out of Downing Street by dramatically resigning from the Labour Cabinet has been given the job of drawing up a strategy for the future of the BBC.

James Purnell, 42, was appointed as the BBC’s Director, Strategy and Digital, on a salary of £295,000, in a management shake-up by Tony Hall, who takes up his post as the BBC’s Director General in April.

As a new signal of clarity at an organisation recently criticised for muddled leadership, Hall has dropped the enigmatic titles Director of Vision and Director of Audio and Music from his BBC executive board – and replaced them with Director of Television and Director of Radio. 

The changes at the top are designed to bring stability to an organisation still reeling from the Jimmy Savile scandal. Purnell was highly regarded during his short time as Labour’s Culture Secretary for having a strong grasp of his brief and an understanding of the implications for the media of rapid changes in technology.

But, after being moved to Works and Pensions Secretary, he sensationally quit the Government in 2009 in order to pressurise Mr Brown to stand down and give Labour a “fighting chance” of winning the last election.

The former Cabinet member is well connected in the arts and media establishment and a respected strategic thinker who was employed by the BBC in the 1990s as Head of Corporate Planning. He is being brought into the BBC as it struggles to recover from the turmoil resulting from the recent damage caused to the reputation of the broadcaster’s journalism.

It was announced that the BBC’s Director of News, Helen Boaden, who was once tipped to be the first female Director General, was moving to become Director of BBC Radio. She told the newsroom that it was a “bitter sweet moment” but, in a statement, the former controller of Radio 4 said it was a “huge pleasure to be returning to my first love of radio”.

Tim Davie, the acting Director General, has been rewarded for  his capable performance during  a difficult time for the BBC by being given an expanded role at BBC Worldwide, the organisation’s commercial arm.

Mr Hall is anxious to have his top team in place before he starts work on 2 April. Interviews are taking place for the key roles of Director of News and Director of Television.

The appointment of Mr Purnell forms a key strategic axis at the head of the BBC executive. Many believe that a power vacuum had formed beneath the level of Director General which contributed to the demise of Mr Hall’s predecessor, George Entwistle, after only 54 days’ tenure.

Alan Yentob, the BBC’s Creative Director, said Purnell had played an important role at the BBC in preparing for the growth in digital television and was a genuine supporter of the arts. “He was one of the few Government ministers who you actually found going willingly to exhibitions and concerts all the time.”

Recently Mr Purnell, who is on the board of the British Film Institute and the National Theatre, has been a member of the Rare Day alliance of television and video content producers.

“I’m really excited to be coming back to the BBC to work on its future with such a great team. Over the last couple of years, producing and developing programmes has rekindled my passion for the career I had before politics,”  he said.

“I feel very lucky to have the chance to return to the BBC at such an important time.”

James Purnell: High-flier who fell to earth is  on the up again

James Purnell, who has never been accused of lacking ambition or self-confidence, once seemed to have his future mapped out – all the way to the top of politics. Even at school in Surrey he was forming alliances that would prove useful in later life, and in his teens landed a summer job as a researcher for Tony Blair.

A post in Downing Street was the launch pad for a parliamentary career and an apparently unstoppable rise through the ministerial ranks.

Even Gordon Brown could not afford to ignore the upwardly mobile young Blairite and appointed him Culture Secretary and then Work and Pensions Secretary.

He seemed to shrug off awkward headlines over his expenses claims and the disclosure that his picture was photoshopped into a hospital publicity leaflet. He was even touted as next Labour leader. That all ended shortly before midnight on 4 June, 2009, when he dramatically walked out of the Brown Cabinet in the expectation that several colleagues would follow him. The exodus never materialised and the former Blairite high-flier found himself in the cold at the age of 39.

While his new, better paid position as Director, Strategy and Digital at the BBC may have taken old colleagues by surprise, the BBC is not foreign territory: he was its head of corporate planning from 1995 to 1997 under John Birt, and at Downing Street he advised Mr Blair on media issues.

As Culture Secretary he was in charge of broadcasting during a spell marred by scandals over rigged phone-in competitions. He warned then that television chiefs had to get “their houses in order”. Five years later, that advice will be highly relevant in his new job.

Nigel Morris

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Sport
Kim Sears is reported to have directed abuse at Berdych
tennis
Arts and Entertainment
Cold case: Aaron McCusker and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvReview: Sky Atlantic's ambitious new series Fortitude has begun with a feature-length special
Voices
Three people wearing masks depicting Ed Miliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg
voicesPolitics is in the gutter – but there is an alternative, says Nigel Farage
Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
News
i100
News
people
Sport
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballThe more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Life and Style
Vote green: Benoit Berenger at The Duke of Cambridge in London's Islington
food + drinkBanishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turn over a new leaf
News
Joel Grey (left) poses next to a poster featuring his character in the film
peopleActor Joel Grey comes out at 82
News
i100
News
business
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

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Project Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This established Digital Agency based in East ...

Guru Careers: Sales Director / Business Development Manager

£35 - 45K + COMMISSION (NEG): Guru Careers: A Sales Director / Business Develo...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - Manchester - Urgent Requirement!

£30000 - £35000 per annum + 20 days holidays & pension: Ashdown Group: Marketi...

Sauce Recruitment: Senior Management Accountant

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: Working for a independently owne...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee