Thursday, October 31, 2013

High energy

The local tv franchise for Cambridge has gone to Cambridge Presents - in which entrepreneur Peter Dawe tries to re-create Red TV, a community station which operated on cable in the city from 1997 to around 2003.

Heady days, the late 90s - here's a Red TV promo...

Bass notes

Radio networks' tone and style are often defined by their newsreaders, and BBC World Service has just said farewell to a key voice of the past two decades or so, Iain Purdon.

Iain's career progressed through news and continuity for Radio 4 Scottish opt-out, which he joined in 1973, through to Presentation Organiser for Radio Scotland, which replaced the opt-out in 1978. London beckoned in 1982, as presentation editor for Radio 2, under controllers David Hatch, Bryant Marriott and Frances Line.

In 1994 he re-emerged at the microphone with World Service, where his wit and wisdom endeared him to a new set of friends. It wasn't surprising that he was picked to be last voice from the studios at Bush House.

For Iain, an amplified life continues, playing bass for Rock of Ages - this Saturday at Amersham Royal British Legion....

Wednesday, October 30, 2013


In other job creation news, James Purnell, the BBC's Director of Strategy and Digital, requires a Chief Advisor. (I've tried putting "strategy" and "BBC" into Linkedin, to assess the scale of management jobs in this new division, and whether or not there needs to be any more; I will be reporting back when I've calmed down)  From the job spec, he seems to want a combination of Miss Moneypenny, Sun Tzu and Lord Sugar.

The successful candidate will be an "Ambassador for Director of Strategy and Digital – a conduit between stakeholders and the Director in order to maintain progress against objectives and smooth operations of the division". He or she will "understand full perspective of issues or concerns raised and triage these, escalating only urgent and important issues to the Director S&D". You wouldn't want Jim dealing with BBC staff more than absolutely necessary, would you?

On the Moneypenny front, a key requirement is "ensuring that the Director S&D is fully briefed prior to meetings and that he has all the papers and information needed to make effective decision [sic] for the BBC". Avoiding documents being left on a train, say. And you'll be "organising and run the regular meetings with S&D Board, including setting agenda, recording minutes and tracking resulting actions". Creating plenty of thinking time for the Director.

Transfer window ?

Harding, with Ron Burgundy's tash
It's going to be a testing Movember for BBC Director of News, James Harding. Three key posts need to be filled - Head of Newsgathering, Managing Editor and Business Editor. So far, the only outsider hired for the division has been Ian Katz, from The Guardian.

There's still not much buzz about the fields: Harding is known to admire the work of Laura Kuennssberg, now Business Editor at ITV (though she seemed more at ease on the daily political beat). In theory, the BBC job is graded Band 10, though an "S" at the end means there's free rein to pay above the £67k roof.

Also at ITV is Jonathan Munro, the deputy Editor passed over for the top job when Deborah Turness moved to NBC earlier this year. Would he be interested in a mere Managing Editorship ?

The newsgathering post has significant on-air impact - choosing the next generation of star correspondents (when will John Simpson hang up his burqa?) and reporters, setting styles of story telling (perhaps reducing meaningless hand-wringing), and deciding which stories to "go large" on, with much-diminished budgets. Harding will want to sharpen newsgathering's reactions; is there a Fleet Street friend with the right skill set ?

Out loud

The Bath Chronicle reports a right mess at AudioGO, which used to be BBC Audiobooks, and still uses the phrase "The Home of BBC Audiobooks" in its publicity. 100 jobs are at risk after the appearance of a large hole in the accounts. BBC Worldwide, which sold the operation off in 2010, is a minority shareholder, with AudioGO having control of Auntie's huge radio back catalogue.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013


You never really leave the BBC. Zarin Patel, former Chief Financial Officer, harassed by Margaret Hodge before she lighted upon Lucy Adams, clearly still gets worked up about process at the Corporation.

This is from a Facebook page of discussion about the Great British Bake Off. Imagine how angry she might have been if something had gone wrong with, say, DMI. Click on pic to go large...

Monday, October 28, 2013


Not much meat for this blogger in the latest set of BBC Executive Board minutes - terse and gnomic.

However, as we await the Bonfire of the Boards, there was a paper submitted about "Child Protection Policy & Child Protection Steering Group terms of reference", so there's one new pan-BBC meeting to attend.

And we see first reference to Project SMART. This acknowledges, as many insiders know, that the first time the BBC tried to move key managers into a more active saddle with German business software called SAP, they fell off - many rather deliberately.  Now a Business Intelligence Manager is trying to get them back on the horse, in an 18-month programme to "re-implement SAP across Finance, HR, Procurement and Learning". I wonder how much the training first time round cost....

Sunday, October 27, 2013


Here's a nick-nack on E-Bay: £15 is the bid at time of writing...  Made by Halcyon Days, which only started business in the 1950s.

Saturday, October 26, 2013


There appears to have been a remarkable volte-face over BBC Monitoring's mini-DMI fiasco. Up until now it was reported that the project, named "Socrates" was brought to an end after spending of £8.35m; now the BBC's line is that,"as a result of the amicable settlement agreement with Autonomy (an HP company), the BBC did not suffer a loss on the value of the contract, and has on-going use of the hardware and some of the software."

The dogged "Oliver Lacon" has been pursuing this over the past nine months, through Freedom of Information enquiries. The BBC has now published minutes of Finance Committee meetings which track the lack of progress on the project. These in themselves are remarkable for the times important execs like Mark Thompson and Zarin Patel didn't attend, and discussions on how the project had fallen foul of the BBC's own processes. There are many redactions, and upside down pages, but I'm sure we haven't heard the end of this one, once Oliver has read them through...

Sharks more popular than Piers Morgan

Wednesday night's edition of Piers Morgan Live on CNN featured a new trial for a Kennedy cousin convicted of murder, an investigation into killings in Boston, and Dick Cheney's cardiologist. This rich fare attracted 78,000 viewers in the 25 to 54 year-old age group.

On Thursday night, Piers was given the day off, replaced by Blackfish, a CNN-commissioned film about killer whales, which pulled in 472,000 viewers.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Busy line

BBC house organ Ariel says the new independent bullying hotline has gone "live" at the BBC. The service, known in the trade as an "Employee Assistance Programme" is provided by Care first, ("delivering relevant solutions that make a difference") who also have contracts with Network Rail and Stagecoach.

Ariel also notes that 30 cases of alleged bullying are currently being investigated. It's time-consuming stuff, and the results are not always clear. The DG told MPs this week that one employee has left the organisation following an investigation into harassment - but will we ever know their name, and departure details ?  In at least one case in the past year, I am assured, a compromise agreement (i.e. a pay-off) was required to deliver the exit. And Lord Hall has made it clear that m'learned friends are involved in disentangling DMI, which suggests issues are being contested, probably expensively.  

Odd numbers

According to The Sun, Charlotte Moore, Controller of BBC1, has (wisely) declined second series for "I Love My Country" and "That Puppet Game Show".

Meanwhile, last night's Emmerdale double bill, at 7pm and 8pm, brought ITV first and third place in the overnight ratings, with Eastenders sandwiched in-between. The BBC's clutch of regional news programmes at 6.30pm, came fourth, with 5.2m.

At 9pm Channel 4's Educating Yorkshire won the slot, with 2.6m, beating BBC1's Original British Drama, Truckers, on 2.3m.

  • The Autumn run of "Imagine" is "on the slipway" (c Ian Katz), and host Alan Yentob has managed trips to Berlin, New York, Newark and Venice for your enjoyment. 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Move on, listeners

Things you can only say at the BBC: Ben Cooper, Controller Radio 1, on the Nick Grimshaw show dropping 1.1m listeners in a year: "After the biggest set of changes to Radio 1 for a generation, we’re really happy that the Breakfast Show sounds fresher, younger and more vibrant than ever and as a result 833,000 of the show’s ‘30 and over’ listeners have moved on to other stations.”

Other commentators note that the average age of the Breakfast audience is stuck at 34. Meanwhile Radio 2 powers on, up by a million, year on year. Director of Radio, Helen Boaden, says "Radio 2 is a remarkable success story and continues to reach huge audiences whilst never failing to surprise and amaze with the diversity of its output."  There are many who would argue that the network's range of music is narrowing; the success, though, is remarkable, given the Trust's stricture to deliver 50/50 speech/music in daytime.

Other odds and ends: another record quarter for LBC, at 1.1m. Highest ever figures for BBC Coventry and Warwickshire - who will be happy to put an awful behind-the-scenes year behind them. Radio Scotland has lost 40,000 listeners; Radio Tees has found a remarkable 43,000, and Radio Cymru has added 10,000. Radio 5 Sports Xtra recorded 1.5m, as Test Match Special listeners finally begin to understand how to find the station. How long before Radio 4 turns the wick off on long wave - or prays for Miliband price control on electricity ?

Wednesday, October 23, 2013


We need some gender analysis of who got their hands on the tv remotes last night. The Great British Bakeoff final got an average of 8.4m viewers, giving BBC2 its biggest single audience for some seven years; Arsenal's loss to Dortmund on ITV scored 4.0m, and Holby City on BBC1, 4.1m.


The news that Nick Jones (Mr Kirsty Young) of Soho House is in talks with Television Centre developers Stanhope about the possibility of a club with rooftop pool and 50 bedrooms on the inner ring of the building sets the mind buzzing.

Will the old Television Centre Club be reborn ?  And in which incarnation ?  Surely not as it was left last year - faux-Hoxton wooden (simulated) floors, daft leatherette booths, and a counter selling jacket potatoes ? The ambience of a motorway service station, blended with a football pub, where cocky waiters stack lager glasses fifty-high, and then drop them to the whinnying of a crowd of bored IT engineers and returning pensioners ?

Pic from Tony Scott
No, surely they'll aim for the early seventies - BBC-branded Jubilee champagne; Tantine (Auntie) and Sans Fil (Wireless) wine; Ruddles County and Ringnes Lager on draught. Jacket potatoes confined to a glazed, separate, cafe; a small lounge bar, "owned" by News and Light Entertainment, and a huge standing area, packed on Top of The Pops' nights, by lonely men hoping for a glance of Pan's People.

That, and a pool on the terrace outside - a winner.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013


Lord Patten seemed to be channelling Derek Jacobi's portrayal of the elderly Roman emperor, Claudius, at
today's DCMS Select Committee. Tired, reflective, without ambition, he took the inevitable kicking with more grace than in the past. He pointed out, again, that quite a lot of the bad things at the BBC has happened before he got there. He pointed out he was 69. He pointed out that the BBC had been in front of parliamentary committees 16 times in the past year.

Lord Hall managed to maintain his bouncy demeanour throughout, even with Philip Davies and Ben Bradshaw (one of Hall's former employees).

I was wrong about lollipops - very little new stuff to offer, apart from Lord Hall's announcement of a bullying and harassment hotline (to complain, rather than get tips) and the news that one member of staff had left after an investigation.

Truck news

Some six weeks after losing its contract with BBC Sport, SiS, which bought BBC Outside Broadcasts in 2008, has decided to pull out of that part of its business. It is looking for a buyer, and, unless one is found, 230 jobs are at risk from March next year.

CEO Gary Smith said today "We have always sought to be competitive in our pricing, but we have never been prepared to sacrifice quality just in order to deliver a cheaper service. In view of the pricing pressure for long term contacts for customers such as the BBC we have come to the conclusion that the outside broadcast market, as it is today, no longer offers an arena in which it makes sense for us to continue to operate.”

Talking books

News judgements are occasionally left at the door at CNN, where Piers Morgan has been interviewed about his new book, "Shooting Straight" by the channel's breakfast show, New Day; the afternoon show, with Jake Tapper; and The Situation Room, by Wolf Blitzer.

Next February sees the publication of James Naughtie's "Madness of July", 'a sophisticated thriller about loyalty, survival and family rivalry in the endgame of the Cold War'. We'll be counting....

Monday, October 21, 2013

The loneliest night of the week

I love BBC One press releases. Here's nearly all of today's very best, with a few added thoughts in brackets.

Let’s Get Ready To Tumble (w/t) is a live (editing costs money, and Splash seemed to cope) Saturday night competition featuring some of the nation’s best-loved celebrities (let the nation be the judge of that) vaulting, tumbling and flipping head-over-heels to try and win the public’s votes (I personally will be voting to keep the hopeless in, until they sustain serious injury) The complete amateurs (i.e. from schools without wall-bars) will be given a crash course in the basics of gymnastics before teaming up with the highest-flying, gravity-defying (hmmmm) gymnasts from across the globe to tackle never-before-seen, new-to-TV disciplines (hmmmm).

With the full backing of British Gymnastics (has money changed hands ?), the trainers who helped take Louis Smith and Beth Tweddle to Olympic glory are ready to turn the nation’s pop stars (how old are those McFly boys ?), actors (they mean Hollyoaks actors), newsreaders (Huw Edwards and Neil Nunes) and chefs (a condition of any new BBC2 series) into heroes of the high bars and titans of the tumble track.

Your Home In Their Hands is a new prime-time transformational makeover (is there any other sort of makeover ?) series for BBC One, where home owners hand over their front door keys for the ultimate makeover (yes, got that ) – the only catch being the people doing the makeover are not professionals; the only homes they’ve decorated before are their own (you can almost touch the jeopardy).  In each programme, four passionate (DG-approved adjective) home decorators who think they’ve got an eye for design and a flair for fabrics compete against each other to win a cash prize. They think they’ve got what it takes. But when it comes to decorating someone else’s home, the rules are very different and the stakes and emotions run high.(Yes, we'll be watching paint dry...)

Charlotte Moore, Controller of BBC One says: “These two new entertainment series reflect the range and creative ambition of In-house (amateur gymnastics and home decorating - renaissance BBC). Your Home in Their Hands will see BBC One indulge viewers’ passion for home decoration, (seen anyone smile in B&Q ?), something we’ve not explored on the channel in recent years (until Danny spent all the money on The Voice) And Let’s Get Ready To Tumble will see brave celebrity contestants sign up to the toughest live Saturday night TV challenge yet!” (apart from making a Lottery show interesting)

BBC Worldwide has invested in both series. Joerg Bachmaier EVP, International Production at BBC Worldwide adds: “We are thrilled to invest in both Your Home In Their Hands and Let’s Get Ready To Tumble, two brand-new entertainment formats that we know will appeal to international audiences around the world."

From an earlier press release, here's Joerg on his appointment to Worldwide in 2011: "My years in Los Angeles taught me to develop high-quality content cost-efficiently, follow a more consumer-oriented approach and create innovative transmedia franchises which allow experiences and creativity to travel seamlessly across all screens. I am thrilled to bring my experience back to Europe and to have found such a great new home with BBC Worldwide."

Front foot

BBC management routine is disrupted again this week, this time by appearances before the tricoteuses of the DCMS Select Committee for Lords Hall and Patten, and Anne Bulford, on Tuesday morning.

Ostensibly, it's to discuss the Annual Report - but that gives the MPs fairly free rein. I'm confident that the BBC will have a few lollipops ready to distract them. So watch out for Anne, as she demonstrates that Auntie is capable of choosing strong and intelligent female managers; she'll have something to say about her Finance and Business operation.

Sunday, October 20, 2013


All change at BBC Worldwide, as Tim Davie tosses away two years of work on a BBC Global iPlayer, in favour of a portal-based approach to flogging programmes direct.

The BBC has never rid itself of those who believe controlling the front door is the key to world dominance. Auntie has tried, and failed, to build, search engines, EPGs, and a continuing series of "personalisable" home pages. Tim is expecting a lot of this new portal - required to deliver news, streams and downloads, and ads. Good luck. Baseline is 60 million.

He's also set a good challenge for a marketing brainstorm. What would you call a new channel that will "target male audiences with a blend of content that raises the bar in the factual entertainment space and an approach which captures the maverick spirit of the BBC's best shows" ?

Yentob ?
Dyke ?
Repeater ?
Chauvinism in a modern world ?

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Disco night

Build it big and they will come. The BBC's Election Night philosophy on tv has been all about size rather than quality (at least in terms of set design) since the 1970s. Thanks to the Guardian, we learn that the hub for 2015 is likely to be on the huge sound stage at Elstree, which currently accommodates Strictly Come Dancing. Someone, somewhere is sketching swathes of scaffolding supporting workstations which are supposed demonstrate the awesome firepower of the BBC's journalism, as a background to Dimbleby, Paxman, Vine, Edwards, Maitlis, Husain - whichever combo gets to sit at the big desks.

Madness - perfectly good big studio at the redeveloped Broadcasting House, and plenty of space there on the night - because there is no other story.

Yet the BBC will spend thousands wiring Elstree like crazy, and shipping everyone there for "rehearsals" as cameras swing around on jibs as if we were at some political version of Glastonbury. Value ?

Half term report

BBC sherpas have taken their calendars on holiday. The task - how to schedule events over the eight or so weeks to Christmas and keep the upbeat mood the DG seeks.

On the slipway we still have the Price Waterhouse Cooper report into what went wrong with DMI; the first report from Dame Janet Smith on the creepy side of BBC culture; and a promise of indicators to save £100m more a year before Danny Cohen spends it all.

The McKinsey report on simplification is in, and unsurprisingly reveals that most important decisions are currently taken in the shadows, with the DG's Office acting in the manner of Cardinal Richelieu in The Three Musketeers, and several candidates for the role of MiLady De Winter. The bonfire of the boards is not far away, and will cheer the staff enormously.

Still to come - further redistribution of staff to Birmingham, Salford and Glasgow. Not so cheerful.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Heavy goods

Original British drama Truckers returned just 2.25m for its second episode last night on BBC1 - beaten by Educating Yorkshire on C4.

Despite attempts to titillate in a shameless 'Shameless' manner, the audience voted with their remotes. Thankfully only three episodes to go...

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Mice news

Another change of ownership for the people who make buildings work, or not, at the BBC: Interserve has won the rather extended tender process for facilities management across all UK sites, taking over from Johnson Controls in London, Balfour Beatty and, eventually, Carillion, across the rest of of the UK.

An estimated 1,100 staff (many of them on second or third TUPEs) will join Interserve, in a deal worth £30m a year for five years. Interserve's latest contract wins include the MoD, the Newcastle operations of HMRC, a two year extension to a Home Office contract, and looking after ten nuclear reactors for Magnox.

Still to come: new catering and security contracts.

Dough Balls

Although Cohen, D has fingered Television and News for further BBC savings, many are looking to Anne Bulford for some smart simplification moves.

A farewell honour from UCL
Anne's Finance and Business Board has eight members, on packages adding up to £1.98m. It sneaks under £2m with the quiet release of Liz Rylatt last month, as Director of Transition and Business Management, on a package of £174k. "Is transition over, is the function redundant ?", I hear you cry.

As at August 2012, the total bill for Senior Managers in Anne's division was £5m. She had 8.7% of the BBC population of Senior Managers, yet 9.5% of the Senior Manager wage bill - more than 20 of the team on salaries above £100k. And, oddly, she seems to be carrying Alan Yentob's salary on her books.

Tous pour un

2014 may be a better year, broadcasting-wise, for the Patten family. Daughter Alice, after a break from our screens post-Ygraine in Merlin, has been filming a part in The Musketeers in Prague, alongside a cast including Peter Capaldi and Luke Pasqualino. Capaldi offers Richelieu as a threatening and skinnier Billy Connolly. On screen early in the New Year - though quite how Alexandre Dumas' classic tale qualifies as "Original British Drama" is hard to understand.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013


Regular readers will be delighted to learn that MG Alba, which, with the BBC, brings you BBC Alba, is to get more taxpayer funding. The Minister for Scotland’s Languages, Alasdair Allan, has announced that the MG Alba new media hub in Seaforth Road, Stornoway will benefit from an additional £300,000 investment.

Dr Allan (Ph D in Sottish languages) said: “BBC ALBA’s viewing figures among Gaelic and non-Gaelic communities have continued to build and have long been an encouraging indicator of the interest in the language – even before the latest census figures showed that the decline in speakers has been dramatically slowed".

Dr Allan was Gaelic journalist of the year in 2006, and when not governing, sings with Back District Gaelic Choir in Lewis, here on BBC Alba.

Me too

It seems the BBC is quicker off the mark when creating jobs, rather than when closing them. In the past 24 hours, we've had news of a "Controller, BBCiPlayer", to work to Danny Cohen; and "Social Media Authors" for Radio 1 and 1Xtra, working to Ben Cooper.

Today, James Harding has started the search for a "Managing Editor, BBC News", another new role - and one strongly tipped to be filled externally. James has been impressing his new workforce with his sharpness and enthusiasm, but sadly seems to have wandered away when it came to subbing the ad...

"The successful candidate will have proven editorial skills in their own right and a wealth of experience dealing with top on-air talent and their representatives. This is a board level position which requires the appropriate level of gravitas and influencing skills to make pan News Group decisions about talent beyond individual departmental plans".

(This might roughly translate as "help me move Paxo, Humphrys and Simpson on...")
  • Danny Cohen breached divisional etiquette last night in an RTS interview with Steve Hewlett. Asked where the £100m x 2 savings will come from to fund "Where Next?" he said "Television and News are where there are the biggest chunks of spending, so we'll have to look for savings there." Just not done....

Foo's yer doos ?

Scotland awakes tomorrow to the Aberdonian tones of James Naughtie. He begins his two-day-a-week commitment to Good Morning Scotland in the run-up to the referendum. There's no word yet, at least from the unaltered on-air schedule, of his partner. Many are looking forward to Jim negotiating the travel jingles.

Jim was born in Milltown of Rothiemay, and then went to Keith Grammar, where he was head boy, and editor of Data 69, the school magazine. The editorial perhaps foreshadows the broadcast style...

Tuesday, October 15, 2013


If you need a reminder that the 1970s was a very different place, try bits of this - a retirement film made in BBC News in 1976 for dubbing editor Arthur Powell.  It features Richard Baker, Peter Woods, John Craven, editor TV News Andrew Todd, John Humphrys (at 10.18), Angela Rippon (at 10.55), Kenneth Kendall (11.20) and Michael Cole (12.49), plus a range of men's magazines and Hitler costumes.

Tide coming in

Some more clues about the future shape of the BBC from DG Tony Hall yesterday. In a speech to a conference of  international "technology innovators" held at Broadcasting House, he said by the end of the current Charter, the BBC would be running 170 apprentices - representing 1% of the workforce.

We note the last reported headcount, in July, is 16,534 - and there are two more years of DQF cuts to come, plus 3% to pay for "Where Next?"  There may be firing as well as hiring.

Lord Hall made a vigorous defence of the BBC's role in the UK market, saying it was a vital catalyst for creativity, a driver of quality across broadcasting, and works hard to engage with entrepreneurs. "The BBC is a great social invention precisely because it helps markets, because it aids competition, because it lifts all boats."

"Lifts all boats" can be traced back to Adam Smith, but was a favourite of John F Kennedy. Warren Buffett's critique of "trickle-down economics" was that "a rising tide lifts all yachts", not all boats - a gag picked up by Ed Miliband at this year's Labour Party conference.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Mapped out

I don't want to get too soppy about my wonderful readers, but thanks to HB for solving the mystery of the pub that used to sit on the site of Broadcasting House extension.

It was called The Devonshire Arms, and at the time of our ancient map, in the 1890s, fronted onto Duke Street (now Hallam Street) more or less exactly at the entrance to the 1960s extension to Broadcasting House, now superceded by Sir Richard MacCormac's redevelopment.

The landlord in 1891 was Joseph Maslen, 50, originally from Bethnal Green. He ran the pub with his wife, Eliza, 48, and son James, 25, who was a barman. They employed Posie Hughes, 17, from Ramsgate as a barmaid and Florence Brett, 18, from Aldershot as a general servant. Also there were Joe's daughter Eliza, 19, and son Charles, 17, who were both students.

Before taking the Devonshire Arms,Joe Maslen was a carman driving a horse-drawn delivery wagon, probably for a railway company, and the family had lived in Chelsea and then Southwark. In 1881 they were at Sutherland Square in Newington, and Joe was a commercial traveller selling mineral water. He probably made a fair amount of money from The Devonshire because, by 1901, he'd gone up in the world and was a cab proprietor living at Gibson Square in Islington.

The Devonshire Arms was still going strong in 1935 and by then, the landlord, Arthur Walter Jones, was serving customers from the BBC, which had moved to the newly-built Broadcasting House three years earlier; it was the closest pub to BH, a matter of significance to this day.  Next door was the Hallam Motor
Club, and at 11 Duke Street was the International Broadcasting Company, set up in 1931 as a commercial rival to the BBC. Owned by Tory MP Captain Leonard Plugge, it made programmes which were aired by radio stations on the continent, including Radio Luxembourg and Radio Normandy (early employer of Roy Plomley).

Which begs the question: Were the elite of the Corporation sitting down for a beer with their downmarket rivals or glaring at each other from opposite ends of the bar?


Theatre producer Michael 'Chalky' White is celebrated in a new film, The Last Impresario. His more famous London stage offerings include The Rocky Horror Show, Oh ! Calcutta, Cambridge Circus (with Bill Oddie and John Cleese), A Chorus Line, and West End shows with Dame Edna Everage.

Michael Coveney, critic for WhatsOnStage, notes that the film contains "a lot of boring wittering on from the deathly Alan Yentob - why? - about something or other".  Tatler's Bystander offers a shot of Big Al at the first night party for the film with his arm round Australian director, actress, and model, Gracie Otto.

And here's Al just before filming his contribution. He can't seem to keep his feet off other people's furniture or dashboards, I'm told.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Pot pourri

  • The Sunday Mirror believes beleaguered ITV Daybreak is about to morph into a more serious Good Morning UK. Presumably somewhere on a scale between Good Morning Scotland and Good Morning Vietnam....
  • The Radio Festival opens formally bright and early tomorrow morning. So, as delegates trek to MediaCityUK this evening, the trams are out of action.  Remind me again of the infrastructure investment by Peel, the now-defunct NWDA, and the promises made to anchor tenants ?
  • As John Humphrys interviews his son as an expert on the tribulations of the Greek middle  class, we look forward to a whole series in similar vein..and will be collating your suggestions.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Make way ?

How close is the promised arrival of BBC1 +1?  It requires precious Freeview bandwidth, and readers north of our current border with Scotland have reminded me that network BBC radio is swept off the service every evening in order to deliver the  Gaelic TV offering, BBC Alba. Heaven forfend that approach be tolerated in England to deliver BBC One's current schedule twice.....

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Co pro

James Purnell, the BBC's Director of Strategy and Digital (only in modern Auntie can you be director of an adjective), was out and about yesterday, looking chipper and on message with "Where Next ?" on Steve Hewlett's Media Show and Newsnight.

On the Media Show, he said the cut required to fund additional initiatives was 3%, on top of the existing 20% sought under DQF. Cash, he said, might be found if they could stop paying carriage charges to Sky, and from sales of programmes and formats, like Strictly, Dr Who and "drama".

This week it was confirmed that the BBC deal with Discovery Channels in America is over. Formally agreed in 1998, the arrangement pumped millions of dollars into BBC productions - "Walking with.. ", all the "Planets", "Horizon", most Brian Cox specials. Between 2002 and 2006, a third of BBC factual output had some Discovery funding. Discovery got first look at most BBC ideas, and, though the money is hard to pin down, around $40m a year went to the BBC to make better shows.

Now, spookily, a former head of the BBC's Natural History Unit, Andrew Jackson, is running Discovery - and the partnership is over. Some commentators have said that Discovery thought they weren't getting the best of the deal; others that Discovery wants a different style of programming - reality-style stories like Gold Rush, featuring American characters.

Now BBC Worldwide has to find new investors, or supply its own risk funding - or push for new factual formats. Or the BBC has to make factual programmes more cheaply.

At the same time, Worldwide has sold an interest in the upcoming drama blockbuster War and Peace, to Harvey Weinstein. One might speculate that the production costs are higher than expected, and Worldwide wants to spread the risk. Will drama sales really fund all this good new stuff ?

Fab news

Big Al's got some of his mojo back, after the Emmy disappointment. Alan Yentob's been out the last two nights, at a BFI dinner and the premiere of Captain Phillips. He was in the audience for the DG's strategy announcements; an Express showbiz hack was also invited, who clearly doesn't understand that Nike shoes are a "statement" and can be expensive.

Alan has also had to put up with barbs from old chum Jennifer Saunders, publicising her her new book. She rowed back a little on Front Row last night, with cuddly Mark Lawson, but not very much...

Wednesday, October 9, 2013


Roger Mosey, the BBC's first Editorial Director, now Master of Selwyn College, Cambridge, at Matriculation 2013. When will Tone light upon a replacement ?

Missing pubs

Never mind the future. Here's a map of the area round the site of Broadcasting House, from 1893, with some questions to resolve - three missing pubs. One actually on the Hallam Street side (then Duke St) of New BH itself; one in the very narrow Gosfield Street; and one between The Stag's Head and The Ship.

The Portland Hotel stood where Western House is now; in 1833 it played host to Captain John Ross on his return from the North Pole (The place, not another pub...)


14 mentions for "arts", 8 for "creative", 5 for "bold" or variants. In a strategy speech that paid tribute to the importance of Shakespeare, Mishal Husain and Sir David Frost, there were also 4 "brilliants", 2 "amazings" and one "fantastic", from BBC Director General Tony Hall.

On the anxiety side, the stretch target for additional savings to pay for a raft of initiatives means finding £100m for each of the next two financial years, beyond the existing DQF 20% target (which includes 4% for reinvestment). Mere spits, you might think, when the BBC's annual income is just south of £5bn. But, for example, the content spend on Radio 4 is £91m; and BBC Three gets £89m - and Tony has promised there'll be no cuts to channels.

The other target with a number attached is to double the reach of BBC Global News - to half a billion a month by 2022. When first collated, in 2004, under Mark Byford, the combined audience for BBC World Service, BBC World (tv news) and the BBC news website abroad was put at 190m; last year it hit 256m, so it's a genuine stretch, requiring a real upward curve.

Apparently, putting more video on the front page of the website will do the trick. I'm not sure that the BBC isn't a little too late to this party. I'd also like to point out that BBC World News (the tv service) available in 26 million homes 24 hours a day in the States, has yet to make the US cable news top 100. The table is propped up by Al Jazeera America.  

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Finger trouble

If you think BBC News from the "News Centre" is scary, try Fox News later this week, when they put their News Deck into operation. This is not a group of Oompa-Loompas playing with tablets; these are hacks "working" at 55-inch touchscreens using Windows 8. At least in this shot, they've managed to keep the Sainsbury's bags and picnic boxes off the glass floor...


Dear reader, I have to confess to another engagement during Lord Hall's speech today. Here's my checklist - let's see how many bullseyes we can score...

  • "We have found the complete Dr Who recordings, and will release them once my kids have watched them for Christmas"
  • "I'm passionate about music"
  • "Family viewing matters; parents and children are brought together through tv, and the Sunday classic serial will return on BBC1 in 2014"
  • "There are some fantastically creative people in the BBC; unfortunately, they've spent the last ten years creating work and jobs we don't need..."
  • "Shakespeare - he was good, wasn't he ?"
  • "The bonfire of the boards will take place in the piazza after this meeting"
  • "You are all expected to work across all media; my management structure will reflect this by 2015, with a single Director of Content"
  • "Personally, I've missed Pan's People...."
  • "I'm delighted to announce that Sir Alex Ferguson is joining as interim Director of HR with immediate effect"
  • "As we sit here in the Radio Theatre, a team from McKinsey are dismantling all current email groups, and the facility to reconstruct them"
  • "The BBC represents a major investment by licence-fee payers, and we want to increase their returns"
  • "Isn't Mishal Husain great ?" 

Monday, October 7, 2013


The July minutes of the BBC Executive are out. We learn that Radio has a Project Thunderbolt, technology is running Project Aurora, and BBC Wales is moving to Tracy Island.

Sorry, I made that last bit up. There are some tough challenges to Rhodri "Bob the Builder" Talfan Davies and his colleagues, and a final decision on a new dream home for the Taffia will not come until April next year.

Other odds and ends: formulas that will decide who's freelance, who's staff, and who can keep their service companies are not yet settled. There's been "a reduction in underspend".  Is that the same as an increase in spending, or can't we bear to say that ?  And that Lucy Adams left the meeting early (same day as July Public Accounts Committee session...)


Just over 24 hours to go, and it looks like Tony Hall's speech on the future of the BBC will have to be renamed.

"Where next ?" has become "Whatever next ?" as a relentless cascade of announcements and initiatives tumble from the pen of Godric and the PR team.

Since Friday, we've got 20% increased spending on tv arts programming; a relaunch of the online culture initiative, The Space; a video channel for Radio 1 on the iPlayer (perhaps not unrelated to this morning's launch of Capital Xtra); a personalised BBC iPlayer app; an online potpourri of the speech programming, to be called Open Minds; Elmo and the Cookie Monster from Sesame Street to appear on CBeebies next year; a trawl for women presenter talent for local radio; and Mishal Husain making her debut on Today, featuring her Malala Yousafzai interview (a collaboration with Panorama). Surely some of all that should produce column inches ?

There's always a dark side. Steve Hewlett worries about funding models, with this clear shift towards individual (measurable) consumption from broadcast. The Mail on Sunday chose to highlight details of the NUJ dossier on bullying (now nine months old), and former BBC trusty Jennifer Saunders has gone a little off message in Glamour magazine....

"They went corporate instead of being what they should be which is a national resource which trains people and curates the best programmes, encourages talent and provides great news. They just became an executive run place for idiots."

"It's just so weird that they could put people off coming into the building the way they do now. How is Alan Yentob still allowed in the building? There are questions that need to be answered!" 

"I remember when it was fun to be there and everybody in the building looked like they really knew something and were good at something. Now they have things like massive workshops on decision making and you think: 'If you're a head of department at the BBC and you don't know how to make a decision, why are you in that job? That's the only thing that you have to do!"

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Moving money

Increased spending on television arts programmes seems to be the key line from BBC DG Tony Hall's speech-to-come on Tuesday; it'll rise by 20%, but from what - and more importantly, from where ?

Inside the organisation, there are still two more years of cuts to make, under Delivering Quality First. In news, the unions have been warned that the next two years will bring bigger cuts, way tougher than the current target, which requires 75 jobs to go.

According to Ofcom, spending on BBC1 first-run originated programmes rose last year, up by £55m to £797m, whilst BBC2 moved the other way, down £46m to £286m. Spending on nations and regions' first-run stuff fell by 4% to £183m.

Tone moonlighting at the wheels of steel...


Saturday, October 5, 2013

One direction

Tried a little Radio 3 this morning. Seemed to be hosted by a spurned love-child of Mark Radcliffe. Adam Tomlinson normally wakes up listeners to Radio York.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Old Pal-ios

Italophile Lord Patten is in Siena this weekend, chairing the 21st Pontignano, a conference aimed at improving UK/Italy relations. Other luminaries in attendance: Ed Llewellyn, David Cameron's Chief of Staff (who spookily was Patten's aide in Hong Kong and Chef de Cabinet in the EU Commission); and Jon Snow, of Channel 4 News.

Just last month Chris was in Turin, "the cradle of Italian liberty" lecturing on public service broadcasting and "civic humanism" as part of the Prix Italia week. Can't see the phrase featuring in Lord Hall's discourse on the future of the BBC next week; nor are we likely to hear another of Chris's insights: "Uncomfortable though it may be, constrained funding drives creativity and innovation."


The problem with the Mail on Miliband Senior is the apparently unchallengeable assertion that Ralph hated Britain; even Mail insiders say the headline should have had a question mark after it. But the Dacre Cadre is sticking to it, "evidenced" this morning, by Alex Brummer, on Today, who asserted that Ralph's "rampant views" were "heard at the breakfast table every morning".  Really ?

Then again, imagine breakfast with Paul Dacre, and the potential impact on the Dacre boys...

Son James is a theatre director, and was asked about the impact of Dad's job on his career by the Telegraph in January this year.

As to whether the Daily Mail connection has had an influence – positive or adverse – he chooses his words with careful fluency. “Honestly, I don’t see any way it has been an asset, or the opposite. Everyone makes their own mark and I hope I’m making mine on my own terms. I don’t see any reason why it should affect the way people see what I do or assess my thoughts and ideas which are – as every son’s are – fiercely independent.”

Not what the Mail says about Ed.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

East Lothian question

Beware serious news breaking out over the first weekend in November. It's the fifth Lennoxlove Book Festival, and, from the BBC corner, it features Jeremy Paxman, Kirsty Wark, Sally Magnusson, Mark Lawson, Peter Snow and Jim Naughtie.

Jim's name has yet to feature in the advance listings for Good Morning Scotland - where Gary Robertson and Hayley Millar currently struggle on five days a week, awaiting the insights of the Great Man Who Understands Scottish Politics. The Scottish press is warming up for his arrival at the microphone, perhaps even more than the picture editors in London are waiting for Mishal Husain to debut on Today.

Holiday tip

How do you doorstep 17,000 acres ? From the booking sheet, someone is staying at the Langwell Estate in Wester Ross until Saturday - but after that, the main house and cottage are available to rent at between £4k and £5k a week for you and up to 13 guests.

Who lives in a house like this - at least, occasionally ?

17,000 acres is four times the size of the Scilly Isles; three times the size of Windsor Great Park, and 17 times the area used by the Glastonbury Festival.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Basket mended

The BBC's former COO, Caroline Thomson, seems to be settling in nicely at the English National Ballet, where the word "interim" has been removed from her part-time CEO role. She also found time over the summer for a Civil Service conference, where, apparently without slides and notes, she explained how she turned round the BBC's project to move large chunks of output to Salford.

It was, apparently, a "basketcase" before she volunteered to run it; she fancied it because she'd just bought a house in Cumbria; says Greg Dyke didn't bother with Executive approval for the move, because he knew he wouldn't get it, and went straight to the Governors; and she finally got results by imbuing the team with the Dunkirk spirit.  Those reviewing current BBC governance procedures might like to take notes. Try a couple of minutes from 8.26, and you'll get the flavour.

Four time

Cassian Harrison has been appointed Channel Editor for BBC4. With a BA in English and Classics from Bristol, he seems a decent sort of cove. From his twitter feed, we learn that he's struggled to get BT Broadband in his new home; asks BBC house scientist and quantum physicist Jim Al-Khalili for help with his son's homework; and loves his iPads.

He's on the left.

TV design 3

A 1755 work by William Hogarth, entitled "Election Entertainment".

A man and his music

Paul Dacre's Desert Island Discs: an alternative view, inspired by the writings of Geoffrey Levy.

Paul was Sue Lawley's guest in January 2004. His eight discs included Shostakovitch's Symphony No 12 in D Minor, subtitled The Year of 1917, dedicated to the memory of Vladimir Lenin, leader of the Bolshevik Revolution.

He picked Aaron Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man. Copland supported the Communist Party USA in the 1936 Presidential election, and was blacklisted by the FBI in the 1950s.

Tannhauser by Richard Wagner. Nuff said.

He finished his selection with part of Verdi's Requiem Mass - Verdi provided the soundtrack to the Italian Risorgimento - and look where that has got us.

The only work by English composers features the writing skills of Ken Barnes, Les Reed and Bing Crosby, with lyrics by one Peter Dacre, Paul's dad, entitled That's What Life Is All About.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Job creation

...and while we're on about creativity, the BBC still harbours a belief that it's a commodity, to be bought, measured, packaged, added liberally or occasionally just sprinkled, to make programmes more attractive.

Yesterday saw a "creative briefing" at Broadcasting House. Danny Cohen, who's "bringing creativity into the heart of BBC Television" (whereas all predecessors obviously left it in the shopping trolley at Westfield) hosted a panel
with Radio 1 dj Greg James, Self-Belief TV creator Jamal Edwards (second left), and Rajiv Nathwani, (right), described as BBC social media don. Other sessions included the National Theatre's Nicholas Hytner and insights into the production of Strictly Come Dancing. The proceedings were closed with tributes to Pat Younge, who's resigned (or taken redundancy ?) as Chief Creative Officer, BBC Vision Productions. One of Pat's legacies is computer software, dubbed iCreate, which apparently can nail creativity to the wall, while a finance team takes measurements.

There was no sign of Creative Director, The Whole Thing, Alan Yentob. Danny Cohen has announced that, in the reborn Television Division, Pat's responsibilities will be shared between Nathalie Humphreys, Controller, Factual and Daytime (presumably released from Pacific Quay), and Controller, Fiction and Entertainment, a role still to be fought over. But wait, what's this - an ad for Creative Director, Development Central,  reporting to Nathalie, and charged with "fostering a collaborative environment opening doors to new ways of developing formats and concepts" ?

Not, of course, a Senior Management role. Just graded Band 11.

Leader's speech

A big strategy speech by a BBC DG is like a set piece from a party leader at a political conference. You apply your oratorical skills to make the rather elusive big-vision-stuff sparkle, and your team are required to provide the zingers, the lollipops of delight, the headline-catching twerks that'll demonstrate you're really in touch.

So, ahead of next Tuesday's speech by Tony Hall, there's a general call round all departments for good gags and material that'll probably run until Monday evening. The James Purnell vision stuff will have already been road-tested, but will be difficult to make shiny. How do you square the circle of requiring an-ever-more-agile BBC, working in a world of increasingly-disruptive technology changes, with a written plan for the next ten years? Especially when Lord Patten has made it pretty clear that he won't back a call for a big licence fee increase ?

The staff will be playing buzz-word bingo. They've heard "creativity", "partnership", "passion", "collaboration" and "great content" too often, for too long, and want action, not workshops; new programmes, not repeats; good job prospects, not "creative labels". They'll be more interested to hear about headcount forecasts, and how many are destined for exile from Oz to the work-camps of Glasgow, Salford and Birmingham. They'll want to know that, as "Senior Management" roles are cut, there are real changes in they way they are being managed, and not just a huge growth in the management jobs at Band 11, just below the SM grade.  They've been promised a ringside seat at the "Bonfire of the Boards", which hasn't yet happened.

When you're really hungry, the present of a nicely-cooked meal is more appreciated than a recipe book. Or something like that.

Other people who read this.......