MEDIA: The BBC would do well to copy Jill Dando’s common touch

When I heard of Jill Dando’s death, I thought back to all the times I had met her and watched her in action: first as a friendly breakfast presenter in the late 1980s, destined for a far bigger stage than a BBC news studio; most recently at the lunch to celebrate the 150th edition of Crimewatch in January this year, held in New Scotland Yard, where, in her trademark pastel suit, she’d stood out among a sea of burly top policemen.

When I heard of Jill Dando’s death, I thought back to all the times

I had met her and watched her in action: first as a friendly breakfast

presenter in the late 1980s, destined for a far bigger stage than a BBC

news studio; most recently at the lunch to celebrate the 150th edition

of Crimewatch in January this year, held in New Scotland Yard, where, in

her trademark pastel suit, she’d stood out among a sea of burly top

policemen.



For the BBC, this is a terrible blow. The shock of its staff, from

director general Sir John Birt downwards, is all too genuine. Yet it’s

also a fact that it is only with her murder that the broadsheet

newspapers have fathomed her broad appeal and national success.



Behind the tributes to her grace and maturing beauty, it is easy to miss

the key point. Dando had become an iconic figure. She personified the

virtues of BBC1 or, at least, what its bosses thought it should be: easy

on the eye, reliable, sensible rather than clever, and hugely popular,

with an ability to act naturally before the camera - all strung together

with a wholesome glamour underpinned by faultless grooming. These were

her attributes.



This is why Sir John alighted upon her as a pleasing corporate lynchpin,

to present the BBC’s annual reports and accounts with a spoonful of

sugar, handling questions immaculately from carefully selected

audiences.



She fronted the launch last year of its key commercial alliance with the

Discovery network, and its digital strategy plans, careful never to

upstage the speakers.



Dando’s rise during the 1990s, through Holiday, then Crimewatch, made

her a very broadly-based star. The executives who run BBC1 only last

year pressed BBC News in vain for her to become the new face of the Six

O’ Clock News. She was right to withdraw: she had risen above that

treadmill.



There will be no single replacement. Last week, Martyn Lewis left the

BBC, refusing slots on BBC World or News 24. He made a suitably

emollient exit, with a textbook exchange of polite letters - he’ll be

back. Crimewatch’s Nick Ross, whose tributes to Dando have placed him

centre stage, is due for a comeback after being frozen out of his other

slots. At the very least, his Call Nick Ross phone-in deserves

revival.



And the BBC governors, as they enter in May the final stages of

selecting a new director general, steering between austere public

service and populism, should bear in mind the Dando lesson: the general

public likes its BBC to be approachable, dependable and popular.



- In last week’s column, Maggie Brown said the Guardian had played a key

role in exposing TV fakery at Granada and Channel 4. The investigations

were, in fact, into programmes by Carlton and Channel 4.



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