Half-smile on show for the cameras: Director-General of the BBC re-emerges in public as support for his position strengthens despite continuing controversy over his tax affairs

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The Independent Online
JOHN BIRT had his back to the wall yesterday as the controversy over his tax arrangements continued. But it was by choice; indeed it was by prior arrangement.

The Director-General of the BBC arrived for work at Broadcasting House in central London to be surrounded by a group of reporters, photographers and television crews. He knew they would be there because the BBC press office had told him they would be. The same office had let them know when he would arrive.

Mr Birt strode through the photographers to a brass BBC nameplate by the main entrance. There he faced them, a half-smile firmly fixed to his face. Questions remained unanswered and when the photographers had had their fill he made a short statement. No one could decide whether his suit was an Armani.

'I have been enormously heartened by the strong support I have had in recent days from close colleagues and from many others inside and outside the BBC,' he said. 'There is an awful lot of work to do at the BBC. I have a very busy day ahead of me. Thank you very much.' Then he turned and walked through the swing doors with the half-smile never weakening.

A determined campaign has bolstered Mr Birt's position since it was revealed by the Independent on Sunday that his BBC salary was being paid into his private company. At the weekend the BBC's board of management and six senior journalists supported him. By yesterday most national newspapers were calling for the head of Marmaduke Hussey, chairman of the board of governors, rather than that of Mr Birt.

In this morning's Times the writer Fay Weldon has organised a letter of support, signed by leaders of the arts establishment: Elizabeth Esteve-Coll, director of the Victoria and Albert Museum; Richard Eyre, artistic director of the National Theatre; Nicholas Serota, director of the Tate Gallery; Peter Jonas, general director of the English National Opera; Adrian Noble, artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company; David Puttnam, Bob Hoskins, Harry Enfield, Lord Annan, and John Woodward, head of the Producers' Alliance. A notable absentee is Jeremy Isaacs, general director of the Royal Opera House, whose questioning of Mr Birt last week led to an outcry over payments to his wife, Jane, made by his private company.

It was time for the Director- General, who had not been visible since last Thursday, to be seen getting back to work.

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