As the BBC's new Director-General, Tony Hall's first duty is to take the Corporation back to basics

If the BBC is to retain the public's confidence, it has to provide a service that the market cannot. Can we say for sure it is doing that at the moment?


Tony Hall does not arrive at the BBC until March, and he must be hoping that the investigations into sexual harassment and Jimmy Savile will have concluded so he can make a fresh start. At last, the BBC is in the hands of someone with a proven track record in news and excellent people skills, whose time at the Royal Opera House demonstrates he can turn around a badly run organisation with an image problem.

Tony Hall might be a lord but his broadening of the audience for opera has shown he is certainly not an elitist. I have nothing but admiration for him, but what a huge task lies ahead. First, he has to keep the BBC Trust at arm's length so he can operate effectively – it should not be interfering in the day to day running of the corporation. The trust was set up to be a separate and advisory entity, but during the recent scandals its chairman, Lord Patten, assumed a pro-active role, largely because of the weakness of the preceding director general.

There was talk of dividing the managerial and editorial roles of the director general because of the size of the organisation, but that will not be necessary with a former head of news such as Tony Hall. Even so, he must make his job easier by scything through the top-heavy management, the Byzantine power structure with its complex reporting structures that have fostered a culture of passing the buck. Whenever there's a problem, few senior BBC executives take the blame.

The trouble is, too many people in the upper levels of management have never worked anywhere else: the place is like a combination of the Freemasons and a gentleman's club. They talk utter bollocks: television became "vision" for example, and it's all about delivery, objectives and mission statements – the hilarious series 2012 could have been filmed at any BBC management meeting.

These people have fat salaries, carefully delineated areas of control and huge pensions, which makes it hard for Tony Hall to cull without spending the obscene amounts of redundancy money of the sort that the trust just dished out to Caroline Thomson and George Entwistle. The number of unnecessary managers and the complex system of checks and balances mean Tony Hall is sitting above a thick, dark cloud of subterfuge and self-importance.

In a nutshell, the BBC is funded by us, and that money is to educate, inform and entertain us. It's that simple. We want to turn on our radios and our televisions and get product. But, just like the NHS, far too much of the licence fee goes on things (such as digital channels) we never asked for and don't watch or listen to, on self-congratulatory on-screen promotions (ads) and on bloated management, swanky offices and the salaries of people who don't do anything creative.

Tony Hall's mantra must be: Keep It Simple. Get back to basics, to the reason why it is in business. That has to inform every decision he takes.

Cutting back won't be seen as a sign of weakness, but a strong signal the BBC understands the nation's mood.

Velvet's a national gem

Over recent years, some productions (based on trials and transcripts) at the Tricycle Theatre have been heavy going – worthy but hardly rewarding theatrical experiences. Its latest offering neatly combines a thought-provoking piece of social history with an exceptional leading man.

Red Velvet is a fascinating play based on the true story of Ira Aldridge, who in 1833, became the first black actor in a leading role on the London stage, stepping in to play Othello when Edmund Kean collapsed. In London, Ira's reception was vitriolic – at the time there was rioting over proposals to abolish slavery – but he was a huge success touring Russia and Europe.

Red Velvet has been a sellout, and ended last night, but it's been nominated for two awards in tonight's Evening Standard drama awards – hopefully it will transfer. It was written by Lolita Chakrabarti, whose husband, Adrian Lester, plays the lead. Next April he stars in a new production of Othello at the National Theatre. Sam Cam was at the Tricycle's fund-raising evening last week – hopefully she'll pass on the word that theatres such as this deserve more funding from the Arts Council.

Such PR drivel

Isn't it comforting to know that they're just like you and me? He sits in the canteen at work with a rather small plate of dreary salad and a fixed expression of "interest" in whatever his mates are blathering about. My goodness, he can even make a cup of instant coffee! She goes to fabulous remote Borneo, and manages to take holiday snaps that are badly lit, out of focus and utterly banal – just like we all do every year. The only difference between us and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, though, is that we don't inflict our photos on many people outside family and friends.

Whoever is advising the couple on their PR ought to be sacked. Posting this drivel to launch their new website isn't just patronising, but also speaks volumes about the inflated idea that royalty have of themselves. A Ministry of Defence photographer recorded a "day in the life" of the prince at the RAF Search and Rescue station in Anglesey, bottom, where he is based, but many images had to be hastily taken down and changed so that sensitive information on computer screens was removed.All they reveal is an uncomfortable looking chap in a boiler suit. As for Kate's feeble snaps, they are supposed to "draw awareness" to projects trying to protect the rainforest and save orang-utans. Can I hope her next assignment is a trip to Liverpool, Swansea or Sunderland to make a photographic record of all the work (not) being done to help young people who can't get a job?

I'm not happy

David Cameron is extremely keen on finding out just how happy we are, and now I know why. The latest survey from the Office for National Statistics shows that a lack of money (as we soldiered through the worst recession since the 1930s) has had very little impact on how we feel.

Did this knowledge make it easier for the PM and George Osborne to demand savage cuts in social services, resulting in massive public sector redundancies? Did they think that the stoic British psyche would see us though rising fuel bills, higher food prices and a freeze in wages? The latest figures show that, in spite of the recession, our levels of "life satisfaction" are holding up. Last year, the average household income fell, but people were happy to have a job, rather than a huge salary.

These surveys cost around £2m a year to produce – and so far, they seem to excel in stating the obvious. Rather than ask what makes us happy, shouldn't they start asking us what we want from our councils, our National Health Service and our MPs? That way we might get a slimmer, more efficient government – and more money to spend on the things that matter in life, such as libraries, the arts and training the young.

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