From BBC news trainee via ‘head prefect’ to Director General In other areas of opportunity it is amazing how some people can make such an impact on a society or network of people – have you anyone in mind!?
Tony Hall returns to a rather different BBC to the one he left for the Royal Opera House in 2001. There was no BBC3 or BBC4, and BBC Online was a fraction of the size it is today.
As director of BBC News for eight years, Hall was credited with restoring the corporation’s reputation as a serious global news operation and oversaw a huge expansion of its output.
It was on Hall’s watch that the BBC launched BBC Radio 5 Live, in 1994 – the same year as BBC Online – and rolling TV news channel BBC News 24 (now plain old BBC News) in 1997. The BBC Parliament television channel came a year later, in 1998.
Having joined the BBC as a news trainee in 1973, he became editor of the flagship BBC1 Nine O’Clock News bulletin aged just 34 – this was in the mid 1980s, long before Greg Dyke switched it to 10pm – and rose through the ranks to become director of news and current affairs and director of news in 1990.
It was Hall who was responsible for making Huw Edwards the face of BBC1’s Six O’Clock News (against the wishes of the then BBC1 controller Peter Salmon) and Hall who led the tributes to another familiar face of BBC News, Jill Dando, when she was murdered on 26 April 1999.
“He brought a ‘tiggerish’ zeal to his job as director of news,” said Andrew Culf, the Guardian’s media correspondent between 1992 and 1997.“He was responsible for a major overhaul of the BBC’s news output … as well as being an early evangelist for online news coverage and the concept of ‘news for you’, the idea that new technology would increasingly allow viewers to access news on their own terms, rather than just through old-style television and radio news bulletins.
Known as the “head prefect” because of his on-message loyalty to the BBC and his senior colleagues, Hall’s tenure as director of BBC News was not without controversy.
There was the controversial switch of the corporation’s network radio journalists, including BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, out of Broadcasting House in central London to Television Centre in White City. Hall’s return coincides with their return to the expensively refurbished and expanded New Broadcasting House.
Bitterly opposed by presenters such as Today’s John Humphrys and the then managing director of BBC network radio Liz Forgan, within two years the corporation announced a U-turn with radio news moving back into central London – this time joined by their TV counterparts.
It wasn’t the only U-turn on his watch. Hall (and Birt) were also behind a 1997 plan to downgrade programme editors of shows such as Today and Newsnight (that BBC2 show again). Presenters such as Jeremy Paxman and James Naughtie reacted with fury to the plan which became front page news and was quietly dropped.
Paul McLaughlin, the National Union of Journalists national broadcasting organiser when Hall was in charge of BBC News, said it would be a “good appointment” for BBC journalism.
Hall takes charge of the BBC 13 years after he lost out in the race to be director general to Greg Dyke. He was the leading internal candidate to replace Birt in 1999, but his “grey man” image is thought to have counted against him in the face of the charismatic former LWT boss.
Last year Hall said in a newspaper interview that he “would have loved to have become the DG”. He didn’t have to wait much longer.
News veteran Lord Hall returns to steady rolling BBC ship Lord Patten says he will stay on as Trust chairman after appointing former head of BBC News to director general role.
From BBC news trainee via ‘head prefect’ to Director General. In other areas of opportunity it is amazing how some people can make such an impact on a society or network of people – have you anyone in mind!?
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