BBC veteran rounds on 'buffoons'

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The Independent Online
BARRY TOOK, the veteran broadcaster and writer, has rekindled the debate over changes within the BBC by dubbing its senior managers 'smug' and 'buffoons'.

The presenter of The News Quiz on Radio 4 believes programme quality has suffered under the leadership of John Birt, the Director-General, as producers are swamped by an excess of bureaucracy.

Mr Took says he is speaking out on behalf of actors, producers and presenters who are prevented from questioning the prevailing ethos by an 'atmosphere of fear'. He claims the support of several high-profile figures within the entertainment world and is certain more will rally round in the wake of his attack.

Mr Took is the latest in a succession of broadcasters to criticise the leadership of Mr Birt and Marmaduke Hussey, chairman of the governors. Earlier this month Johnny Beerling, former controller of Radio 1, compared working at the BBC to 'life under communism'. The playwright Dennis Potter savaged the corporation's senior figures in an address to last year's Edinburgh television festival, while the highly-respected foreign correspondent Mark Tully and the disc jockey Dave Lee Travis have also made outspoken attacks.

Yesterday, speaking at his home in London, the former Points of View presenter described Mr Hussey, Mr Birt and their acolytes as 'buffoons'. Likening Mr Hussey to Nero, and criticising him for being 'smug,' he said: 'He is playing about at management when the business of the BBC is broadcasting.

'If they concentrated more on improving the quality of programmes and less on changing management styles, and theories of management, they would be more effective in the job they are doing.

'Young people in the BBC can't speak out but they say privately how depressed they are, their days are taken up with paperwork. How can they develop their broadcasting skills when they are having to read long tedious memoranda and fill in forms?'

Mr Took, who first worked for the BBC in 1959, said the the existing leaders compared unfavourably with those from the 1960s and 1970s when the corporation was 'run by broadcasters' such as Sir Huw Wheldon and Sir David Attenborough.

'The old and very good standards in both radio and television are being eroded by people who don't really know what the BBC is. They are trying to turn it into something it could never be . . . The BBC is a special creature and I hate to see it being mucked about.'

He also believes an 'atmosphere of fear' has replaced internal debate. 'There seems to be no argument within the BBC. In the old days we used to argue in the most cheerful way and then go down the pub.'

The BBC declined to comment.