Selecting the new director general for the BBC degenerated into a
rum old process. It has spread neither lustre on the institution, nor
created confidence in the abilities of the successful candidate. And,
since weakness invites trouble, the politicians led by William Hague
have rushed to meddle, underscoring the BBC’s vulnerability to sniper
What the BBC needs as its next director general is a mix of ’the
Archangel Gabriel and David Beckham’ according to chairman Sir
Christopher Bland in an interview last weekend. Joking aside, he meant
there was no ideal candidate within the BBC, or within the broadcasting
sector - someone who combines the qualities of miracle worker and the
agility to stay on the ball in highly competitive conditions.
It was a strange way to put it. The director generalship is a huge job,
but, as Sir John Birt demonstrated, it’s not impossible. Whoever now
gains the consensus backing of the 12 governors will take up the reins
knowing himself to be the least worst choice. It’s not the best of
starts when a key task lies in convincing a highly critical and
demoralised workforce of 24,000 to back your ’fresh start’
At best, it underscores the need to run the BBC through a carefully
balanced executive team of talents, including a revival of the post of
deputy director general, which might check an unhealthy concentration of
power in one man. Further, the process - with its public adverts and use
of global headhunters, all a desire to be seen to be scrupulously fair -
has also emphasised a serious management failure within the BBC.
This complex organisation has been unable to produce an obvious
successor, despite running its own management college, creating tailored
MBA courses, and sending its executives to US business schools.
There have been succession problems before: when Alasdair Milne was
sacked in 1987, Sir Michael Checkland, his compromise successor, lacked
programme-making skills - yet Sir John appears not to have learnt the
lesson. He has been careless with talent, letting the best leave while a
cadre of able internal candidates in their early 40s have too little
Sir John’s drawn out departure is also part of the piece: for all his
achievements, he continues to attract a bad-press - now more so with
confirmation that he’d been a member of the Labour Party until 1992.
It’s an open secret that he’s dismayed his PR executives couldn’t foster
a better image for him, that his personal charm, apparent in briefings
and small groups, never transferred to a wider stage.
In short, the search for the new director general has created the
widespread impression that the BBC is a troubled organisation when,
succession problems apart, it has held onto audiences far better than