THE BBC Trust yesterday made the surprise move of appointing Tony Hall, the chief executive of the Royal Opera House, as the replacement for departed director-general George Entwistle.
Former BBC head of news Hall, who left the corporation after 28 years in 2001, was considered for the job during the process that saw Entwistle appointed but had shown no interest, BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten revealed yesterday.
However, following the BBC’s fall into turmoil and the ending of his position as chairman of the Cultural Olympiad, Hall reconsidered the job. “He said at that stage he didn’t want to do it but by now things had changed dramatically,” Patten said at a press conference introducing Hall yesterday.
“He was interested and we moved very rapidly from then.”
Hall’s appointment comes less than two weeks after Entwistle’s sacking, which came about when flagship BBC News programme Newsnight falsely implicated prominent former Tory politician Lord McAlpine in a child abuse scandal. The BBC Trust has faced anger over the size of Entwistle’s £450,000 payout, but Patten was unapologetic about it yesterday.
“I’m not going to add to the criticisms and indignities thrown at George Entwistle. People forget that his last job he took at a considerably lower salary than his predecessor.
“It would almost certainly have cost us a good deal more to have proceeded to constructive dismissal with the very real possibility of unfair dismissal on top of that.”
Patten – who has himself faced criticism but vowed to see out his term at the BBC yesterday – said no other candidates had been approached, but that the decision to appoint Hall had come “after three or four meetings and quite a lot of time”.
Hall said he had taken the job because “I care passionately about the BBC” and that he was “absolutely committed to the news operation as a world beater”.
Culture secretary Maria Miller welcomed the appointment, saying “he has a very strong track record in successfully leading iconic organisations”.
Hall will have the same £450,000 salary as Entwistle, and will start in March, with interim director-general Tim Davie remaining until then.
PROFILE: LORD TONY HALL
Although his appointment could be seen as a clean break from the management failures that have resulted in the Jimmy Savile and Newsnight scandals, Lord Tony Hall is by no means a newcomer to the BBC. The 61-year-old joined the corporation in 1973 as a graduate trainee in the Belfast office, following a degree in Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Oxford. From there he rose through the ranks at the corporation, going on to produce flagship Radio 4 programmes Today, The World at One, and PM.
Hall then moved into television before becoming director, then chief, of BBC News, a position he occupied until 2001, shortly after being passed over for the director-general role in favour of Greg Dyke. During his time at the BBC, Hall launched BBC Online, BBC News 24, and Radio 5 Live and the BBC Parliament channel. When the Royal Opera House came knocking, Hall left the BBC. In his time there, he is credited with turning the charity around and opening it up to a much wider audience with initiatives such as beaming shows to outdoor TV screens and cheap tickets to events.
In 2009, Hall was asked by Boris Johnson to set up and chair the Cultural Olympiad, which he did until the end of the Olympics this summer. He also sat on the board of the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games. Hall has served in a variety of other roles, including deputy chairman of Channel 4 – a position he will step down from shortly – and chairman of the Royal Television Society.
Yesterday, Hall said that the BBC is “an extraordinary organisation and an essential part of Britain and who we are” and said he was “looking forward to the task immensely”.