I woke up this morning feeling sad, because the BBC has lost the most popular Director-General it ever had for no other reason than he was trying to do the right thing. Greg Dyke was not prepared to accept, as his predecessors had done, that the BBC’s way of doing things was necessarily the best. He set about involving the entire staff in a consultation exercise to find out what could be improved at every level of the Corporation, and implemented many of the suggestions. His staff, initially wary of these untried methods, grew to respect, and even to love him. Under his stewardship, the BBC became less like a large corporation and more like a huge family, with “Greg” (he hates formality) as the father figure.
The reason he had to go was simple: on this issue he allowed his heart to rule his head. Both Dyke, and BBC Chairman Gavyn Davies, were known to be supporters of the Labour Party when they were appointed, leading to the predictable jibes from opposition parties of “Tony’s Cronies” being brought in to run the great institutions. So anxious were they to demonstrate the BBC’s impartiality that they feared giving in to the government over the Andrew Gilligan affair would be seen as weakness on the part of the BBC. The fact that the BBC might actually have been at fault on this single issue seemed not to have been given its due consideration. So we had the spectacle of the BBC Governors, who are supposed to regulate the Corporation, rushing to defend its management without looking at all the facts.
I don’t know for sure, but I strongly suspect, that Dyke was also trying to protect his staff, in the way that a father protects his kids. This might seem simplistic, but in some ways that’s how Greg Dyke is - and generally people love him for it. The spontaneous and unprecedented outpouring of affection we saw yesterday, not from a handful of middle managers, but from hundreds and hundreds of rank-and-file staff, is evidence not only of the way he is regarded in the BBC, but of the way he has liberated them and actively encouraged them to express their opinions.
Now, Greg Dyke is no saint. In many ways he’s a rough diamond. Some of his reforms, such as the infamous “cut the crap” exercise, seemed to have more place in a soccer dressing room than a venerable media institution. Yet the motive behind it was a good one: focus on making good programmes, which is after all what the BBC is there to do. By cutting waste, such as replacing expensive taxis with a fleet of BBC cars for those who have to move between the various BBC premises in London, he was able to put more money into programming, and bid to get back sports rights that the BBC had lost, such as the Premiership.
As Director-General, Greg Dyke was also the BBC’s most senior journalist, and given the structural deficiencies in the editorial system identified by Hutton, he had to go. But even Prime Minister Tony Blair, whose insistence on getting a full retraction and apology from the BBC had led to Dyke’s demise, described him and outgoing Chairman Gavyn Davies as “honourable and decent men”. And he seemed to have a tear in his eye as he said it. Thursday 29th January 2004 was a sad day for everyone concerned. Life at the BBC will go on, but I bet it won’t be as much fun working there. As for Dyke, he says he might take early retirement (he’ll be 58 this year), but don’t be surprised to see him back in the media very soon: it’s in his blood.
Disclaimer: These views do not necessarily represent the official opinion of Radio Netherlands.