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Donald Macintyre's Sketch: Attack dogs and cross-party onslaughts - Lord Hall begins an Odyssey of his own


We could see where Philip Davies,  attack dog of the Tory right and scourge of all things BBC, was going with his enquiries, of course. Given that the Question Time audience were supposed to reflect the local community, how would political balance be ensured if the programme was airing in what he clearly saw as the left-wing People’s Republic of Bethnal Green and Bow? 

Lord Hall, attending his first (marathon) hearing of the Culture Media and Sport Committee as Director General, wasn’t rising to the bait, instead using  his catchphrase of the day: “That’s a really interesting question,” before going on to say he was sure that while he was not an expert on the local “demographics” he was sure there were a lot “very diverse views about life, politics.... all of that.”  He would write to Davies about the selection issue.

The new D-G, appearing alongside his chairman Lord Patten, pictured,  was  a lot more confident than his predecessor George Entwistle had been. He came under fire across party lines over the  sideways transfer of Helen Boaden, identified by the Pollard report as a miscreant of the Jimmy Savile Newsnight that never was. How could he hope to restore public trust when no heads had rolled, asked Labour’s Ben Bradshaw? It was just like “the banks...  where we see rewards for failure”. Boaden would make a “fine” head of radio, Hall insisted.

He was a shade less easy under another sustained cross-party onslaught over whether students –not to mention their local guides – had been properly briefed about the dangers of providing cover for the famous Panorama on North Korea. Yes, he finally admitted, it would have been better if they had been asked for written consent.

As the hearing wore on, it rambled a bit. At any moment, you felt, Lord Hall might be asked if he should take another look at the  time allotted to coverage to the Chesterfield darts league by BBC Radio Derbyshire. “That’s a really interesting question,” he would undoubtedly have said.

After two and a half hours, the chairman John Whittingdale announced that “we have reached our destination.” Patten replied with a single word: “Ithaca.” This was, of course, a reference to the Odyssey, Ulysses’ epic journey home fromTroy . That took 10 years. This only felt like it had.