BBC's head of natural history quits

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The Independent Online
THE HEAD of the BBC's prestigious natural history unit, who was responsible for programmes such as Wildlife on One, The Natural World and Nature has resigned.

Andrew Neal described how a new accountancy-dominated system and scramble to embrace market forces had led him to step down after 25 years with the corporation.

Mr Neal is one of Sir David Attenborough's closest professional colleagues. Sir David, whose natural history series are made through the Bristol-based unit, knew of his decision to leave when he made a devastating attack on the current BBC management in a speech to the British Association for the Advancement of Science last month.

In it he warned: 'The BBC is being gravely eroded, the morale of its staff seriously damaged.' His attack was amplified three days later by Michael Grade the chief executive of Channel 4.

The departure of Mr Neal, who describes himself as an 'old fashioned manager', has caused shockwaves in the BBC.

The wildlife programmes he was responsible for were exactly the innovative and distinctive products for which the BBC wishes to be known.

Mr Neal said yesterday: 'I was spending 50 to 60 hours a week on bureaucracy, related to the changes taking place. I'm a creative person, and I'd had enough.'

He was one of the 120 rising BBC managers selected to sit on a task force last year. He also worked with BBC Enterprises on policies for the future.

'I believe in producer choice (the new BBC policy allowing it to price programmes accurately), but what is happening is that everyone is being set new tariffs for programmes. This is the opposite to producer choice. It shows that the powers that be do not trust the producers.

'Creative people do not like being told what to do by accountants. For example, I was told by bureaucrats you need one less person to make this production. It was a farce, crazy.'

Mr Neal said that the managers rising to powerful positions were appointees or followers of John Birt, the Director-General designate, who believes in the need for radical change and a tough management style.

'The new managers are deaf and blind to the realities. The BBC is trying to put its house in order too quickly. The new managers are not trained, they are rushing far too fast and making mistakes. They should be bringing in producer choice by April 1994, not April 1993.'

He said the irony was that those managers believed in the policy of distinctive programmes, but were driving out the very people who made them. The final straw for Mr Neal came when John Shearer, the new head of BBC South, moved the BBC 2 environmental programme Nature out of the natural history unit in order to make it a tougher, investigative documentary series.

Mr Neal plans to work as an independent producer and may team up with Sir David.

The BBC is to announce major cutbacks today in its administrative overheads and BBC Radio.

ITV has been censured by the Broadcasting Standards Council for screening a scene of excessive violence against a woman in a drama called The Guilty.

The scene, transmitted at 9.30pm on 9 June, showed a young woman being repeatedly struck over the head by a man who had broken into her flat.

The BSC said it was particularly concerned about the 'prolonged nature of the sequence, and level of brutality'.

Central Television, the producer, said the scene was within the Independent Television Commission's programme guidelines.