Labour turned to the former boss of ITV and senior adviser at Goldman Sachs yesterday to oversee a management and commercial overhaul of the party.
Charles Allen, who started his career in the food business and was once famously dismissed by John Cleese as an "upstart caterer", will make recommendations aimed at putting the party on a "professional and sustainable" footing in time for the next election.
He will work alongside Iain McNicol, Labour's new general secretary, but, significantly, will report to the Labour leader Ed Miliband.
Mr Miliband is known to have reservations about Mr McNicol's election last month and Mr Allen's appointment will give the Labour leader his own eyes and ears inside the party. It will also allow him to directly shape its future outside the confines of Mr McNicol's leadership.
Labour sources said Mr Allen, a long-time Labour supporter, would work "a couple of days a week" for the party on a voluntary basis for a number of months. They said discussions on his role had begun in the spring.
"He's going to be looking at the engine room of the party and help advise us on how we can do things better," one source said.
Born in Lanarkshire, Mr Allen cut his business teeth at British Steel – as an accountant – in the 1970s before taking up a management post at Grandmetropolitan International, a drinks and leisure conglomerate, in 1982. Three years later, the company's catering business was spun out as Compass Group where Mr Allen rose to become managing director, working alongside boss Gerry Robinson.
It was Mr Robinson who installed Mr Allen as managing director of Granada – and subsequently head of its television business – when he became chief executive in 1991.
The part played by the two men in the ousting of the well-respected chairman David Plowright the following year earned them a stinging rebuke from John Cleese, whose fax famously read: "Fuck off out of it, you upstart caterer". But the pair went on to build Granada's television business buying up LWT, Yorkshire Tyne Tees, Meridian, Anglia and HTV – and Mr Allen became executive chairman when Mr Robinson retired. He went on to run ITV when the company merged with Carlton.
Mr Allen was ousted in August 2006, and subsequently ran EMI as well as joining the boards of Big Brother producer Endemol and Virgin Media. He also became an adviser to Goldman Sachs Capital Partners and is a member of the board of Locog, the committee organising the 2012 Olympics.
Mr Miliband said Mr Allen brought "huge experience" to help build a stronger Labour Party.
Mr Allen said: "I am delighted to be asked to conduct this review and to play my part in developing a strong and effective party, built on the foundations of strong grassroots support."Reuse content