The governors of the BBC always enjoy a dinner or informal drink the evening before their monthly meetings. But this was no week for cordialities. At 5pm on Wednesday, a date which coincided with the Hutton report by chance not design, they gathered, knowing the stakes could not be higher.
Lord Hutton had made stinging criticisms of their failures to check the veracity of the Andrew Gilligan story. The Conservatives had leapt upon the Hutton report to repeat their demands for the BBC to be independently regulated. So the 11 governors - bereft of their chairman, Gavyn Davies, who had quit hours earlier - were acutely aware of the gravity of the situation.
Mr Davies had admitted that the "intemperate attack" from Alastair Campbell over the corporation's war coverage had "scrambled our radar screens". He had acknowledged those "at the top of an organisation should accept responsibility for what happens in that organisation".
But Lord Hutton's criticisms of the BBC's editorial structure were even more damning than his observations about its governors. Greg Dyke and his closest advisers had been in shock since reading copies of the report on Tuesday. As the story was picked over on the rolling news networks the following day, those close to Mr Dyke believe he was already considering quitting. Although his instinct was to fight, he knew resignation might be the only way to secure the future of an institution he cared for passionately.
So Mr Dyke tendered his resignation to Lord Ryder of Wensum, the acting chairman, before the governors' meeting. He hoped it would be rejected, but those close to him believe he knew deep down he would not get the backing. Yet the offer of resignation had not been expected, a senior source involved in the process said yesterday. And at the "emotive" and highly charged meeting, several governors argued passionately that he should stay. Sir Robert Smith, the BBC governor for Scotland, Professor Fabian Mounds, an academic from Northern Ireland, and Dermot Gleeson, a businessman, are understood to have lobbied for Mr Dyke. A second group, said to include Baroness Hogg, the former economics editor of The Independent and head of John Major's policy unit, were initially in favour of delaying. But Lord Ryder, a former Conservative whip, is said to have led the faction which maintained that Mr Dyke's position was untenable.
In last summer's initial discussions on the Gilligan report, Lord Ryder queried the tone and style of the Today programme but was persuaded by Mr Dyke and Mr Davies to back a fight-back against the Government. Perhaps, some speculated yesterday, they had felt misled and needed to make a stand.
The governors may have regretted not referring the Government to the BBC's complaints unit, suggested by one member but rejected by Mr Davies. After the first few hours of debate, food was brought in and the talks continued until after midnight. The debate was "thorough", the source said, but "not acrimonious". At the end, there was "a certain weariness" about it. The decision to accept the resignation was taken and Mr Dyke informed.
Yet even a few who voted in favour were said to feel events had moved too fast. There should have been more "reflection" and gauging of the public mood. Too late. When the governors resumed their official meeting at 10am on Thursday, the executive committee of the BBC - which has day-to-day control - were being told the news by Mark Byford, Mr Dyke's deputy. At 1.40pm, Mr Dyke sent his final e-mail to staff.
Yesterday,Mr Dyke said he had needed to know if he enjoyed the full support of the board to have continued. "They decided I did not have their full support," he said.
Mr Byford, the BBC's acting director general, was starting a thorough review. BBC insiders were insisting enough was enough. Two good men had gone. There must be no more. And then, last night, Andrew Gilligan announced his resignation.Reuse content