The 'dirty campaign' to sink Dyke

IN PERHAPS the most vital week of his career in television, Greg Dyke is, according to his friends, sanguine, almost bemused at the maelstrom raging around him. He would like to be BBC director-general, they say, but is aware that the row about his pounds 50,000 donation to the Labour party has blown up out of his control.

In fact, said one friend, "Greg is still on a high after Barcelona." Mr Dyke is a director of Manchester United football club and was sitting close to his idol Bobby Charlton during his club's historic victory over Bayern Munich in the European Cup Final. "I think it might have been the best day of his life. He is still up on a cloud," said the friend.

During the whole affair, with The Times lining up on one side, and his friends rallying on the other, he has remained silent, determined that only the BBC's board of governors will hear his point of view.

The story began when the Murdoch-owned Times revealed that Mr Dyke had contributed not only to the Labour party in general, but directly into the coffers of Tony Blair's leadership campaign. Immediately conspiracy theorists argued that this was Rupert Murdoch's revenge for Mr Dyke's opposition to BSkyB's bid for Manchester United. And the theorists were delighted as The Times went on to dredge up a three-year-old letter to The Independent in which Mr Dyke admitted contributing to the back offices of successive shadow secretaries of state for culture.

The Times carried a series of articles and letters from leading figures saying that Mr Dyke's candidacy had become untenable. John Tusa, the former head of the BBC World Service, doubted that he could be "a truly independent director-general". The independent MP and former war reporter Martin Bell said Mr Dyke was the best-qualified candidate but called the political donation an "insurmountable" problem. A former managing director of BBC Television, Sir Paul Fox, wrote that Mr Dyke had "disqualified himself from being a candidate for the job of director-general".

It looked bad for Mr Dyke - but he stuck with his decision to remain quiet. His friends could not. Old colleagues were keen to point out that Mr Dyke's record was one of fierce editorial independence where politicians are concerned.

Several wrote to The Times saying that the suggestion that Mr Dyke might be susceptible to political pressure "unfairly questions the integrity and honesty of a very singular man". The signatories included Clive Jones, the chief executive of Carlton, Adam Boulton, the political editor of Sky News, and John Stapleton, the journalist and presenter.

Other signatories were, however, part of a group known as the "LWT mafia", which Mr Dyke's critics have denounced as being an overly influential behind-the-scenes elite in the media and political world.

At LWT Mr Dyke worked with people who were to become some of Britain's most powerful television bosses. His colleagues included not only Sir Christopher Bland, the BBC's chairman, who will have a key vote in whether to appoint him, but also the current director-general, Sir John Birt.

Other LWT big hitters included the deputy chairman of Channel 4, Barry Cox, the broadcaster and candidate for London mayor, Trevor Phillips, and the Labour peer and broadcaster Melvyn Bragg. All three signed the Times letter.

The LWT mafia were all spurred on early in their careers by the conviction that they were at the cutting edge of "intelligent television", through involvement with the watershed programme Weekend World. These were the days in which John Birt and Peter Jay proclaimed that television current affairs were about having "a mission to explain".

At the core of the group was, perhaps, the most controversial figure of them all: Peter Mandelson, a veteran of Weekend World, who was best man at Trevor Phillips's wedding, and aspired to be Culture Secretary with political influence over all the former colleagues who rose to the top of the television business.

Years later, the connection has come back to haunt Mr Dyke. A key part of The Times's allegations was that he, at Mr Mandelson's request, and with Melvyn Bragg's encouragement, wrote the party a single cheque for pounds 25,000 to go into Labour coffers.

His LWT days were to work against Mr Dyke in a second way. Some of his friends did not subscribe to the theory that The Times's attack on Dyke was anything to do with Manchester United. Mr Boulton, for instance, saw it, instead, as evidence of an old-school BBC establishment regarding Mr Dyke as an outsider and something of an oik.

When Mr Birt came into the BBC, he brought a lot of LWT editors and producers with him to Lime Grove with the "mission to explain" philosophy. Nastiness bordering on internal warfare broke out as LWT people struggled to leapfrog old-schoolers in the BBC hierarchy. Remnants of the old tensions remain, and helped to fuel another conspiracy theory: that anti-Dyke stories were being planted by BBC executives.

The political dimension blew up when the Tories weighed in this week with a letter which reached The Times before its official recipient, Sir Christopher. It claimed that Mr Dyke would be "totally unacceptable" politically.

Mr Dyke's friends say that the level of vindictiveness against him will backfire. They believe that the BBC's governors will be minded to show independence of Mr Murdoch, The Times and the Tory party and appoint Dyke after all.

Leading article, Review, page 3

Those Who Defend Him

MELVYN BRAGG

A Labour peer who was made to give up his programme on Radio 4 on the grounds that his politics might undermine the perception of his impartiality. He says Greg Dyke's personal beliefs have never interfered with his editorial judgement.

MICHAEL PORTILLO

The Tory 'leader-over-the-water' has said that Greg Dyke should not be penalised for having donated money to a political party. His view clashes with that of William Hague, who says Mr Dyke would be 'totally unacceptable'.

BARRY COX

Deputy chairman of Channel 4, another old LWT hand, who is an old friend of Mr Dyke's and helped draft a letter to The Times pointing to "the integrity and honesty of a very singular man".

... And Those Who Don't

MARTIN BELL

The anti-sleaze independent MP considers Greg Dyke the "best qualified candidate" to be DG, but says his pounds 50,000 donation to Labour "rules him out for the top job in British broadcasting".

ANTHONY HOWARD

The renowned political commentator says Mr Dyke's appointment would "give the clearest signal yet that in Blair's Britain, pork-barrel politics has finally come into its own". He describes Mr Dyke as a "close crony" of Mr Blair.

JOHN TUSA

The former head of the BBC World Service has said "it is staggering someone who has been involved financially with the Prime Minister's leadership campaign should then end up with the most powerful job in the British media".

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