Radio 4 head leaves to be master of Oxford college

Mark Damazer, BBC veteran of 28 years, to take over at St Peter's in October
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The Independent Online

One of the BBC's most senior executives is to leave the corporation to pursue a career as the head of an Oxford College.

Mark Damazer, Controller of Radio 4, the corporation's flagship news and current affairs station, has been appointed Master of St Peter's College in Oxford, The Independent has learnt. The beginning of his tenure at St Peter's will coincide with the start of the next academic year in October, but his final day at Radio 4 is yet to be confirmed.

His departure is a major loss to the corporation during a difficult period of transition. Mr Damazer is generally regarded as having stewarded Radio 4 effectively since succeeding Helen Boaden, the present Director of BBC News, in October 2004.

Mr Damazer, a BBC veteran of 28 years who is also Controller of BBC7, the digital comedy and drama radio station, is 55 on Thursday.

Many other senior BBC staff are known to be assessing their own future in the wake of recent pension guidelines that reduce the entitlements of senior staff over 55. Among the recent high-profile departures were Richard Sambrook, the Director of Global News, who left the corporation after 30 years service earlier this year, and Nic Newman, the veteran BBC News online executive who is leaving after 20 years. It is not known whether recent pension changes, effective from 6 April, relate to these cases.

Few, however, are of Mr Damazer's stature within the corporation. A former Deputy Director of BBC News, Head of Political Programmes, and Head of Current Affairs, he is seen as a safe pair of hands who might eventually have succeeded Mark Thompson as Director General. His appointment at Radio 4 was seen as a personal victory for Mr Thompson. He guided the station to record numbers of listeners – above 10 million – in his five-and-a-half years in the post, during a period of insecurity at the corporation, which was convulsed by scandals involving phone-ins, reality television, Jonathan Ross's salary, and ongoing disputes with the Government over the size of the licence fee.

Among the decisive contributions he has made are the introduction of new voices, including Kirsty Young on Desert Island Discs , Evan Davis and Justin Webb on Today, Julian Worricker on You and Yours , and Jane Garvey on Woman's Hour.

But his tenure was not without controversy. His decision to drop the five-minute UK theme with which Radio 4 started each day inspired angry front pages. The station's audience is notoriously resistant to upheaval, and such was the furore over Mr Webb's replacement of Edward Stourton – known as "Posh Ed", and a former fellow trainee of Mr Damazer's at ITN – that there were calls for the Controller to resign. He later said of the episode: "Cock-up is the least you can say."

Last night Mr Damazer said: "I will be leaving a job I have loved. I'm leaving behind a network which is passionately sustained and supported by its audience and by programme makers, commissioners, schedulers and support teams at Radio 4 who are devoted to their work. I am more grateful than I can say for the opportunity to have been in charge of Radio 4 for what will be six years, and I leave with the hope that Radio 4 – and the BBC – will continue to be strong and resolute in serving the public who put so much faith and trust in it".

Mr Damazer will be replacing Professor Bernard Silverman at St Peter's, who stood down at the turn of the year. Professor Silverman was briefly President of the Royal Statistical Society, but stood down from that post when it was announced, in January, that he was to be Chief Scientific Adviser to the Home Office.