Paxman should be the next chair of the BBC

He thinks that the Corporation is ‘smug’, which seems like a good place to start



Following Lord Patten’s sudden resignation as chair of the BBC Trust because of ill health, there are three decisions to make. The most important is whether the Trust should continue to exist in its present form.

Then comes the question of who should be the next senior figure (for my surprise choice, see below).

There is also the issue of timing. Major changes in the structure of the BBC can be made only when the Royal Charter comes up for renewal. The present Charter lasts until the end of 2017. And just to complicate matters further, the next general election is due to be held in a year’s time.

As to the sequence of events, all that has been announced so far is that the excellent Diane Coyle, currently a vice-chair of the Trust, will take over as acting chair until a successor is appointed. The Government could be tempted to ask Ms. Coyle to continue in an acting capacity until after the election.

That would be a mistake.  General elections are testing times for broadcasters. The duty to be impartial lies heavily upon them. Stopwatches are employed to measure how much coverage each political party receives. But whether the division is fair is always controversial and likely to be more so than ever with Ukip a major contender. In these circumstances, it is hard to see that an acting chair would carry sufficient authority. So a new chair must be appointed straight away.

The impossible nature of the Trust is that it is required to be both cheerleader for the BBC and its regulator.  Thus is his farewell statement, Lord Patten stated that the BBC “is a huge national asset which is part of the everyday fabric of our lives… it is a precious and wonderful thing, a hugely positive influence which benefits greatly from the creativity and dedication of its staff… most important of all, the British public enormously value the strength of its output, its independence and the contribution it makes every day to the quality of our lives.”

Yet during Lord Patten’s time, the Trust subjected this same precious and wonderful thing to a series of public rebukes. Lord Patten, for instance, criticised the broadcaster’s coverage of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Pageant on the River Thames in 2012, saying it “wasn’t the BBC’s finest hour”. Lord Patten also had a public disagreement with the former director general, Mark Thompson, during the uproar over £25 million payments made by the BBC to 150 departing executives. The Trust claimed the BBC management had not properly informed it about settlements which were described by Margaret Hodge, chair of the Public Accounts Committee, as “on another planet”.

The problem of combining cheerleader and regulator was recognised at the time of the renewal of the Charter in 2007. A committee was set up to advise the Labour government on what should be done. It recommended the creation of a new regulator, to be called the Public Service Broadcasting Commission, and a proper corporate board for the BBC itself, with an independent chairman sitting above the director-general. The proposal was not accepted.

Since then we have seen the difficulties in which the BBC Trust has found itself. And the travails of the Co-op Group give vivid testimony of the problems that can be created by a faulty governance structure.

I largely agree with the proposal that was rejected in 2007 except that I would pass the entire regulatory task to Ofcom, the independent regulator and competition authority for the UK communications industries. There would thus be a single BBC board. It would comprise a non-executive chair and perhaps five non-executive directors, three of whom would represent Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Two executives, the Director-General and the Director of News and Current Affairs, would join them.

Who then should be the next chair? He or she would head up the Trust until the sort of unitary board described above replaced it and, if satisfactory, would continue in post. My candidate is Jeremy Paxman. He has worked for the BBC since 1972. He is a broadcaster. He is also  a commanding figure and he would directly relate to ordinary members of the public. They would see him as somebody who is completely straight. None of the other people whose names have been put forward would have the same resonance.

Last month, Mr. Paxman said in an interview that the Corporation was ‘smug’ and that “There’s a pile of stuff on the BBC I can’t stand”. That is a very good starting place.


It is not only Poems that make grown men cry, to quote the title of a new anthology by Anthony and Ben Holden, but novels, too.

My eyes pricked with tears several times as I read Kamila Shamsie’s new work, A God in Every Stone. It is set in England, Belgium and India in the years 1914 to 1930. Among other things it describes the experience of Indian troops sent to Ypres, the battlefield where some of the fiercest fighting of the entire First World War occurred, and then what happened in April 1930 during the first major confrontation between British troops and non-violent demonstrators in Peshawar.

In the novel, a young English archaeologist, Viv Spencer, goes to Peshawar to help excavate a Buddhist site. There she meets Qayyum Gul, who had been at Ypres. Viv, thinking that she is speaking reassuringly to Qayyum, comments that “the old military men who had served in India insisted the loyalty of the Indian troops was beyond question”.

“‘Beyond question?’ It wasn’t a phrase Qayyum knew. The loyalty of Indian troops was somewhere beyond, all the way across the field without cover and up the slope where German gunmen waited.”

Then, a little later, immediately after British troops had fired on demonstrators in Peshawar, Qayyum is attempting to return to the centre of the city. An English army officer shouts:

“‘Stop. Stop right there.’

Strange, how a command delivered in an English accent still made him want to salute: ‘Lance-Naik Qayyum Gul, 40th Pathans. Sir.’

‘On leave are you?’

‘Discharged due to injuries sustained in battle, sir.’

‘Which battle?’

‘Vipers, sir. Ypres.’

Of all the words known to the English, only Somme had greater power. Not King, not Country, not Christ could stand against Ypres. Even so, he didn’t expect the Englishman to step forward and hold out his hand.

‘My father died there. Royal Fusiliers.’”

Cue: tears in the eyes.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Administrator - IT - Fixed Term, Part Time

£17340 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Come and join one of the UK's leading ca...

Recruitment Genius: Property Sales Consultant - Chinese Speaking - OTE £70,000

£18000 - £70000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Opportunity for a Fluent Chines...

Recruitment Genius: AV Installation Engineer

£27000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to business growth, this is...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Refugees try to cross the border from Greece into Macedonia, near Gevgelija, on Wednesday. The town sits on the ‘Balkan corridor’ used by refugees, mostly from Syria, to travel from Turkey to Hungary, the gateway to the EU  

The UK response to the plight of Syrian refugees is a national embarrassment

Kevin Watkins
The provincial capital of Idlib, Syria, which fell to al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra last week  

'I was sure I’d be raped or killed. I was terrified': My life as a gay Syrian refugee who had to flee Isis

Subhi Nahas
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent