Gilligan: The burden I'll always have to bear

As battle lines are drawn up in the race for Greg Dyke's successor at the BBC, Anthony Barnes and Tim Luckhurst assess the front-runners
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Indy Politics

The former BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan has described the past few days as the "worst week of my life".

He said he is now suffering a form of battle fatigue after the damning Hutton Report that led him to resign from Radio 4's Today programme. "I feel like an infantryman who has been in action too much. I can no longer quite calibrate the scale of incoming fire," he wrote in The Sunday Times.

Gilligan said his own resignation was inevitable following that of Greg Dyke but said that the BBC governors were wrong to accept the director general's departure. He also conceded that he had made a "fumbling performance in my famous 6.07 live interview". Gilligan added: "I did not bring about the chain of error; but I started it and that is a burden I will always have to bear."

As the recriminations continue, battle lines are now being drawn in the race to find Greg Dyke's successor. Factions within the BBC are trying to win backing to stop the acting director general, Mark Byford, from taking the post. He is among the front-runners, along with the Channel 4 chief Mark Thompson, a former BBC high-flyer who has long dreamed of the role.

Mr Thompson was director of television at the BBC and a former BBC2 controller before heading to Channel 4 to put the station on a more even financial keel.

Mr Byford is a strong favourite, but internal efforts have begun to secure an alternative outcome with support coalescing around the "female option" ­ which, a source explained, is not confined to one individual.

Jana Bennett, the BBC's director of television, and Jenny Abramsky, the widely respected head of music and radio, are both regarded as ideal contenders. Supporters say both women have the proven political independence and ability to stand up to pressure needed to lead the BBC out of the present crisis.

Mr Byford has been described by one executive as "the worst possible option in terms of independence and future courage". Many believe he lacks charisma and his rise to prominence owes more to his reputation as a "teacher's pet" than any proven vision or aptitude for leadership. A BBC man throughout his career, he was groomed for seniority by Mr Dyke's predecessor, Lord Birt.

The organisation was thrown into crisis last week after its two leading figures ­ Mr Dyke and the chairman, Gavyn Davies ­ resigned in the wake of the Hutton report. The director general's departure, in particular, has hit staff hard.

Journalists and executives mounted an unprecedented show of support yesterday, placing an advert in The Daily Telegraph that paid tribute to his "passion and integrity". It was accompanied by 4,000 names and a vow to defend BBC independence.

The names included the head of TV news Roger Mosey; the world affairs editor John Simpson; and Sian Kevill, the editorial director of BBC World.

The Department of Culture, Media and Sport will be aiming to appoint a new chairman within three months to complete the board of governors, which will then choose the new director general.

Also expected to put himself forward is Alan Yentob, the BBC's head of drama and entertainment, lately reborn as an arts presenter.

The Candidates:

Mark Byford: groomed by Birt; mistrusted by staff

Jana Bennett: director of TV, able to stand up to pressure

Alan Yentob: head of drama, likely to enter the race soon

Jenny Abramsky: respected head of radio and music

Mark Thompson: head of C4 and former BBC high-flyer

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