Hierarchy buries the hatchet for a fond farewell

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THE guests at Sir Michael Checkland's farewell BBC dinner were united. It was a very English occasion. Only the English could have pulled it off with such style - or such hypocrisy.

'This is not going to be one of those occasions when it is drinks at 7.30pm, ambulances at 10.30pm', Sir Michael joked to the 70 guests. And so it proved.

From drinks on the third floor of Broadcasting House, to farewell toasts in the candle-lit Council Chamber at 10pm, everyone concentrated on turning what could have been an icy evening of embarrassment to a relatively jolly and relaxed affair.

'We wanted to celebrate Mike,' said a former BBC manager, forced out after differences with the new Birtist regime, but invited back for the farewell by Sir Michael.

No one mentioned the leadership crisis engulfing the BBC, at least not out loud. Nor were there conspiratorial huddles. You could say the event on Wednesday night was a revival of BBC tradition. Alasdair Milne, the previous director general, sacked by Marmaduke Hussey in 1987, refused to take part in a farewell dinner. Sir Michael, who earlier this week called for Mr Hussey's resignation as chairman for the second time, was seated at the central table between the man he dubbed a 'fuzzy monster' and his wife, Lady Susan Hussey. With them was John Birt, acting with the apparent confidence, say eye-witnesses, of a man who has ridden out a crisis and emerged strengthened. He had not spoken to Sir Michael since he left the BBC prematurely, on 18 December.

One guest said: 'Dukey thanked Mike very much for all he'd done, for his work on the Extending Choice document. Mike said he was passionate about the BBC and hoped it was in safe hands.' The two men apparently exchanged private pleasantries during the evening, without mentioning the BBC.

The guests munched their way through what sounds like a standard BBC meal: salmon mousse, lamb with roast potatoes and vegetables, a pudding so unmemorable no one could put a name to it (it was ginger syllabub), followed by cheese. There was white and red wine. BBC in-house cooking tends towards the simple and stodgy.

After dinner Mr Hussey stayed around to chat. At midnight many of Sir Michael's old cronies, were still busily being jolly. As for the former director-general, he is off to Belfast today for yet another farewell dinner, from BBC Northern Ireland.

(Photograph omitted)