Memories of the night with Birt

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The Independent Online
Plenty of column centimetres were dedicated to John Birt's keynote address at the festival, when he launched his campaign for a higher licence fee. Hacks, mercifully, were given succinct briefings beforehand, saving themselves the trouble of wading through a long and rambling speech to find the kernel of something truly new. Some disgruntled attendees were less than charitable as they left McEwan Hall, muttering about the hard seats and the interminable Mr Birt. Memorably, Andrea Wonfor, joint head of production at Granada announced the next day: "Sure, I've slept with John Birt - during his speech last night."

David Elstein, the acceptable face of Rupert Murdoch's BSkyB, found himself in enemy territory, surrounded by operators who don't like BSkyB's stranglehold on the pay television market. He performed suavely and convincingly as always, and even made a few friends by confiding that his boss, the gruff Sam Chisholm, likes to spend bank holidays in New York, so he doesn't have to face all those empty roads - a painful reminder for a workaholic that he is the only one on his way to work.

The cable industry had a session of its own but only one cable operator agreed to take a place on the panel. Officially the companies said the time was not ripe to air their views. Insiders suggested the real reason was fear of being shown up by Elstein, one of the British erudite men in British television.

Can it be true that Laurence Marks, half of the team which wrote such hits as Birds of a Feather, was bounced out of his suite at the George Hotel to make way for John Birt? The BBC won't say, Mr Marks was unreachable and the staff are keeping mum.

Richard Tait, head of news at ITN, had to field plenty of questions at a session on "spin doctors", following the fawning interview of John Major by News at Ten's Trevor MacDonald. No, said Mr Tait, there was no deal between the Tory spin doctors and ITN that the interview would top the running order that night. And no, he insisted, it was an internal decision to have Mr MacDonald, rather than the more aggressive Michael Brunson, conduct the interview. Just a case of bad news judgement then?

The great and good settled in for some serious dancing and some even more serious drinking at a bash afterwards.Who was the leading independent producer seen cramped behind the bicycle shed?

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