Pandora: BBC bosses perform U-turn in hunt for new World Service chief

The BBC has performed an embarrassing volte-face over its appointment of the next director of the World Service. The corporation has been heavily criticised in recent days after it emerged that the estimated £300,000-a-year position, which will be vacated by Nigel Chapman in the new year, would only be open to candidates from within the BBC.

Such a criterion is particularly contentious because the Foreign Office minister, Bill Rammell, told the Commons last Tuesday that that the process would be "open, and open to external candidates".

On top of that, an advertisement for the post which appeared in the BBC's in-house magazine, Ariel, said the deadline for application was 4 January, giving hopefuls only 11 working days to apply. This left some to suggest that the Beeb was avoiding too hefty an application procedure because it had already earmarked Richard Sambrook, the BBC's director of global news, for the job.

The matter prompted an angry letter to one national newspaper yesterday, signed by two former World Service directors, calling for a "fully open selection process".

Last night, the BBC consented. The position will not only be open to candidates from outside the organisation, but it has also agreed to extend the deadline to the last week of January.

A spokesman for the corporation said: "The position will be advertised externally in January following the degree of interest in the post. The closing date will be extended to Monday 26 January 2009."

Nighy heaps praise on his saviour

Richard Curtis's name might provoke snooty guffaws among certain parts of the British film industry, but not from Bill Nighy.

Nighy thinks the world of Curtis, and graciously credits the writer-director with reinvigorating his acting career.

"I owe Richard Curtis endless dinners," he says. " Love Actually gave me a profile in America and it meant I no longer had to sing for my supper. After that movie I was invited to go to work. That's a big change in an actor's life. Also a bit disorienting."

Nighy, who is promoting his new movie, Valkyrie, next appears in a film called Wild Target. It is a remake of the French film, Cible Émouvante, in which he appears opposite Rupert Everett as a lonely, middle-aged hitman who has never had a girlfriend.

"He is asked to kill a woman – played by Emily Blunt – and he can't pull the trigger," adds Nighy, 59. "I can understand, because it's Emily Blunt."

Fayed keeps it in the family

The opening of the Harrods Christmas sale isn't just a shameless exercise in self-publicity for Mohammed Al Fayed, it's an opportunity for all of his family.

This year, the store owner has selected the Welsh soprano Katherine Jenkins to help cut the ribbon when the sale begins on Saturday. A press release announced yesterday that Jenkins is still deciding her choice of outfit. Apparently, it's a toss-up between Dolce & Gabbana, Oscar De La Renta or Jasmine Di Milo. In case you haven't heard of the last one, it happens to be the label owned by Fuggy's ebullient daughter, Jasmine. Handy!

Pryce offers Atkinson advice

Jonathan Pryce has offered some seasonal advice to Rowan Atkinson ahead of the funnyman's appearance as Fagin in the forthcoming West End production of Oliver!

Pryce, who appeared in Sam Mendes's production of the Lionel Bart musical in 1994, hates seeing Fagin depicted as a Jewish caricature.

"I looked at the David Lean film and I thought it was horrible, absolutely horrible," he tells this week's Jewish Chronicle newspaper. "I didn't need to go there. I didn't play him as a Jew, but I didn't not play him as a Jew. He's a villain. Villains can be any nationality."

Winning formula for Christmas

Honda's Formula One team may have gone to the wall, but their rivals over at Williams clearly still have a few shekels to spare. As a Christmas gift to hundreds of media and sponsorship contacts, it recently sent out specially-designed washbags by Anya Hindmarch, the upmarket designer (and chum of David Cameron) whose handbags fetch as much as £5,000. So expect to see a flood of these for auction on eBay in the new year.

Montague's slip in the shadows

Sarah Montague was reviewing the papers on the Radio 4 Today programme yesterday when she stumbled upon a story which, she said, claimed that the Shadow cabinet had 23 "dictatorships". Of course, what she meant to say was that Shadow ministers hold 23 directorships. John Humphrys put it down as a "Freudian slip". Surely it would not have happened under Ed "Safe Hands" Stourton's watch.

pandora@independent.co.uk

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