Profile: News champion for the BBC - Janie Ironside-Wood, head of communications, BBC News

At the start of the year, Janie Ironside-Wood was getting ready to shun the stressful life of a top-ranking PRO for the quiet quads of Oxford University to read theology.

But as she teetered on the brink of returning to college after 28 years in PR, Ironside-Wood was headhunted from BBC Worldwide to manage the BBC department that dominated the news recently over the Dr David Kelly affair.

And BBC News will continue to do so with the backlash of the Hutton Report still fresh. Publicly renowned news presenters have threatened a walkout over the pending internal inquiry.

Having come so close to swapping the media maelstrom for a life of study and reflection, Ironside-Wood takes up the reins as BBC News head of comms at the end of the month. The corporation is preparing for its Royal Charter review amid criticism from the commercial sector, and could see its regulation handed over to Ofcom. And there remains controversy over the licence fee, which raises £2.7bn annually.

It is no surprise that Ironside-Wood is dedicated to a campaign to maintain the BBC's independence and licence fee. 'It's a system that guarantees a consistent flow of high-quality programming to a wide audience,' she says.

Its news operation is staffed by some formidable characters. How do you ensure that such heavyweights as Andrew Marr and Jeremy Paxman are on-message? With experience of working with the likes of Jon Snow and Trevor McDonald, Ironside-Wood says: 'It's about discussing approaches to interviews, which comes down to talking to (journalists) about how they want to reflect the organisation they work for. Above all, I am dealing with an organisation with independence as its core value.'

The divorced mother of two started her career in a more light-hearted environment, working as a marketing exec at Pye Records. She left to become private secretary to Labour peer the late Earl of Longford, which provided a valuable training ground in dealing with hot news topics - including a campaign for the release of Moors murderer Myra Hindley.

'Longford campaigned for (Hindley) to be released on parole, despite the press saying the opposite (should happen). And the tabloid press were then much less principled than they are today,' she says.

From there, Ironside-Wood went to become head of press at independent radio station LBC.

She comes from an impressive sporting background, being the daughter of Ian Peebles, who played cricket for England before becoming cricket correspondent for The Guardian, The Sunday Times and The Observer. And her cousin is middle-distance runner Bruce Tulloh, who ran in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and was famous for running barefoot across America.

At 19, she went to study modern languages at the Sorbonne in Paris. 'I am a city girl and I was not a very diligent student. I scraped through exams because I had a party lifestyle,' she recalls.

But Ironside-Wood's passion is music and books. During a career break from 1980 to 1985, she had two sons and wrote a book on Anglo-US pre-Beatles pop. She returned to work and, after a spell at PR agency Namara Cowan, landed a job at TV-am, 'a riotous place to work', she says, and then GMTV. There, she says she built up a good rapport with the tabloids. ITN then recruited her as chief press officer before she quit for the BBC in 1997.

After a six-year stint at Worldwide, Ironside-Wood was preparing to step down a gear for the world of academia, but events took a different turn. The corporation created her role before the Hutton inquiry, but the role has had renewed urgency as the BBC continues efforts to restore its reputation.

Former boss and ITN editor-in-chief Richard Tait says: 'Janie cares about journalism. Public perception of BBC News has never been more important. (It needs to) ensure the way it operates continues to give people confidence, so it is good that it has appointed someone who can handle journalists.'

Ironside-Wood is more reflective: 'I want to work in an area that is part of people's lives. I have an interest in sociology, in understanding people and how systems work.'

For Ironside-Wood, the books and quiet quads will have to wait. The country's biggest news organisation expects.


1988: Press and publicity manager, TV-am

1992: Head of press and PR, GMTV

1995: Chief press officer, ITN

1997: Director of communications, BBC Worldwide

2004: Head of communications, BBC News

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