Radio chief Forgan quits BBC ahead of schedule

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After three controversial years as the most powerful woman in British broadcasting, Liz Forgan is to leave the BBC early without another job to go to.

The official reason given for the departure of Miss Forgan, managing director of BBC Network Radio, is that she had achieved ahead of schedule the objectives set for her when she took the job.

There was speculation within the BBC last night that her departure was linked to a row about radio budget cuts and a plan to move radio news in with its television counterparts, which some feared might weaken its connection with the rest of BBC Radio.

BBC insiders said yesterday that in recent months Miss Forgan had had an increasingly difficult relationship with John Birt, the BBC's director- general who appointed her, and that her departure was not unexpected.

Miss Forgan, 51, will leave her job in April. Although this coincides with the arrival of Sir Christopher Bland, who is taking over from Marmaduke Hussey as chairman of the BBC, sources yesterday denied that the two moves were connected.

It will now have to be decided whether to appoint her successor before Sir Christopher arrives or whether to wait until he takes up his post. Front runners for the job include Michael Green, deputy managing director of radio and controller of Radio 4, and Jenny Abramsky, controller of Radio 5 Live, who is tipped as the favourite.

Although she does not have a job to go to it is thought unlikely that Miss Forgan will have long to concentrate on her hobbies of church music, cheap novels and Scottish islands. She is a former director of programmes at Channel Four and may return to television.

Miss Forgan said yesterday: "I am leaving Network Radio in strong form but with its strategic direction set for the next decade and an excellent management team in place. I have achieved the objectives which were set when I came so that now is a good time to bow out."

She also wrote to radio staff saying: "The past three years have been marked by radical change in every area from the axeing and relaunching of Radio 5 to the almost equally momentous transformation of Radio 1."

Her role was praised by Mr Birt,who said: "Liz has had a speedy and substantial impact on the BBC, successfully leading Network Radio through a period of unprecedented change." Mr Hussey said: "Liz Forgan's decision to leave is a great loss to the BBC and leaves a gap that will be hard to fill."

Miss Forgan was brought in from Channel Four as one of Mr Birt's first acts as director-general. She replaced David Hatch as managing director of Network Radio in a move which outraged the BBC's old guard because she had no experience of radio.

Her period in the post has been consistently controversial. Radio 1, the BBC's pop music station, was revamped with many familar names being dropped. This initially led to a massive drop in listening figures although these have started to climb again.

Radio 5 was scrapped and replaced by the news and sport-dominated Radio 5 Live, The Archers started to sound more like Brookside, and Womens' Hour was moved to coffee time. Miss Forgan also upset people by suggesting that she wanted more regional accents on radio.