Alasdair Milne, Director-General who stood up to Thatcher, dies aged 82

He was a charismatic editorial figure, who served the BBC for 34 years
  • @andymcsmith

Alasdair Milne, who led the BBC during five years of frequent conflict with Margaret Thatcher's government, has died aged 82.

He was the first television producer to be appointed Director-General of the BBC, a post he held from 1982 to 1987. Shortly before his appointment, he had a foretaste of the controversies that lay ahead when, as director of programmes, he appeared in front of a angry meeting of Tory MPs, alongside the BBC's chairman George Howard, to be harangued about the corporation's coverage of the Falklands War.

They were shouted at by MPs outraged that BBC journalists had reported the information they were receiving from the British government as "claims" to set alongside what the claims made by the Argentine government, and that Panorama had interviewed MPs opposed to the war.

During Milne's term as Director-General, there were similar arguments about the BBC's coverage of the miners' strike and over Kate Adie's reports of the 1986 bombing raids on Libya.

In 1985, the Real Lives programme conducted an extended with Martin McGuinness at a time of intense conflict in Northern Ireland and after Margaret Thatcher had demanded that the IRA and its political wing should be denied the "oxygen of publicity." The Home Secretary, Leon Brittan, called for the programme to be dropped.

It was discussed by the BBC's governors while Milne was on holiday, and they agreed to comply. The decision set off a journalists' strike. Milne took on the governors when he returned.

The film was eventually shown with minor amendments in October 1985, but the argument hastened Milne's departure. A new chairman, Marmaduke Hussey was appointed and one of his first decisions was to ask Milne to leave, which he did in January 1987.

Born on 8 October in India, to Scottish parents, Milne began his career as a BBC trainee in 1954. He went on to be a producer of shows such as Tonight and That Was The Week That Was, before moving into management as controller of BBC Scotland.

Tim Davie, acting Director-General of the BBC, said: "Alasdair Milne was a charismatic editorial figure, who served the BBC for 34 years, leaving as his legacy a raft of outstanding programmes, as well as defending fiercely the editorial independence of the BBC."