Show's over for the man who saved Radio 1 from 'Smashie and Nicey'

  • @iburrell

The man who saved BBC Radio 1 from ridicule by rescuing its credibility in the wake of the "Smashie and Nicey" era yesterday announced he was leaving the station after 13 years.

Andy Parfitt, the longest-serving controller in the network's 44-year history, said he would "pursue new opportunities". The suddenness of the decision, and the fact he will leave the BBC as soon as next week, came as a shock to the team of loyal presenters he has handpicked for a schedule that is attracting record-breaking audiences.

Breakfast presenter Chris Moyles, who Parfitt has supported through a series of controversies, described the controller as his "friend" and said he would "miss working, laughing and arguing with him". Fearne Cotton said she was "gutted" and Scott Mills said it was "a sad day". DJ Pete Tong reflected that "dance music on Radio 1 would not have been possible without the vision and passion of the brilliant" Parfitt.

It has been known for some time that the BBC veteran of 32 years , who has become synonymous with the youth network, wished to spend more time at his Cornish farmhouse. Sources at BBC Radio 1 said his deputy, Ben Cooper, would move smoothly into the role of acting controller of both Radio 1 and digital urban music station 1Xtra. Two of Parfitt's other roles – head of the Asian Network and controller of popular music – have passed to the BBC Radio 2 controller Bob Shennan.

The changes come a month after a report on BBC Radio recommended a combined management structure of Radio 1 and Radio 2. Tim Davie, the BBC's director of audio and music, rejected the suggestion by the report's author John Myers that the two networks should have one controller. The BBC is under pressure to streamline as it moves its radio services under one roof in London's Broadcasting House, and these changes are likely to deliver some cost savings if Cooper is appointed Parfitt's successor without a deputy.

Parfitt distinguished himself as a skilful manager of presenting talent, and showed insight into the youth audience. While filling the evening schedule with specialist presenters such as Zane Lowe, Tim Westwood and Annie Mac, he was careful to retain a mainstream appeal in the daytime so the station did not feel elitist. Michael Gubbins, content manager of Music Week, a music industry website, said Parfitt left "with Radio 1 in a healthy state".

"When you think of the challenges in the market Radio 1 should be suffering, he has kept it relevant," he said.

As chief assistant to former controller Matthew Bannister nearly 20 years ago, Parfitt helped reposition the network as it parted company with an older generation of presenters such as Dave Lee Travis, Simon Bates and Tony Blackburn. But despite his youthful appearance, Parfitt knew that at 52 he could not remain forever in charge of a station that targets an audience of 15- to 29-year-olds.

In an email to staff, Parfitt said he had come to his decision "after a long period of deliberation" and he was confident the stations were "in great shape" and with "a clear plan for the future".