Wednesday, May 20, 2015

History lessons, again

When Sir Allan Powell was appointed Chairman of the BBC in March 1939, the ever-helpful Daily Mail headlined their story ""New BBC Chief says: I know nothing of radio".

Powell was a lawyer who had already held many public offices. In the week of his appointment, Hitler occupied Czechoslovakia, and Powell went on to defend the BBC’s independence during World War II, while ensuring the Corporation supported the war effort. In 1942 he sacked the DG he had inherited, Frederick Ogilvie, Lord Reith's successor. (Former chair R C Norman later said that Ogilvie every ability "except that of being able to manage a large organization, the one quality which was indispensable")

When his Powell's stint ended in 1947, there were tributes in Parliament, including this from Churchill's chum, Brendan Bracken. "In the darkest days of the war he radiated confidence and cheerfulness, and was the sort of robust Chairman that the BBC then required. It was my good fortune, as Minister of Information, to see him almost every day. Sir Allan Powell's arrival always meant that we had the most cheerful of visitors. One of his greatest attributes was a lovely gift of courtesy, and a sweetness of nature that made him greatly beloved by all his staff."

But I digress. Rona Fairhead, current BBC chairman (loved by some but not all)  and her predecessor, Lord Patten have incurred the wrath of the Daily Mail for their other earners. On appointment, Sir Allan was also Mayor of Kensington - and he stayed in that role for two years, despite drawing a BBC salary of £3,000. Using the Bank of England's inflation calculator, that's equivalent to over £175k today, compared with Rona's £110k.

In other historical comparisons, Sir Allan signed off the BBC accounts for 1946, with the principal expenditure of the organisation still focused on 'talent'.

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