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BBC Job Up For Grabs


When I heard that the post of chairman of the BBC governors was up for grabs, I knew it was the job for me and I applied for it as soon as the lists opened.

I wasn't the only one with a similarly high opinion of himself.

At our preliminary meeting I found I recognised a good few of the hundred or more candidates who had turned up for a glass of wine, a nibble and a briefing.

Michael Portillo, for instance.

"Head of the BBC, Michael ?" I inquired. "What's in it for you?"

His smile never faltered. (Have you noticed that nobody in the public eye ever ceases to smile these days ?)

"The BBC is the most effective opposition to Labour in Britain today," he smiled. "When the next election comes, I'd like to be a player in it, and being head of the BBC would give me more power than being head of the Tories. More pleasure, too. Don't quote me."

Jeffrey Archer was my next encounter. I wondered what could have brought him here. I got out my notebook and asked my question.

"Excuse me, Jeffrey . . . "

Before I could complete it, he had taken my notebook from me, asked me who to dedicate to, signed it and moved on.

"Strange fellow, Archer," said a voice at my elbow. It was Peter Mandelson. Mandelson? A future BBC chairman?

"I can't imagine you wanting to run anything, Peter," I said. "Eminence grise is more your style, surely."

"I'm just here to make sure John Birt doesn't get it," he said. "He thinks that Tony has promised it to him. But it would be fatal to put Birt in charge of anything again."

"Oh? I thought you Blairites were all one happy family . . ." I said.

There was a loud shout, suddenly near, me. I looked round. It was Alastair Campbell, crowing about something. Or maybe losing his temper. It was hard to tell the difference.

""Oh my God, that person . . ." said Mandelson and he faded away. Of course, it may equally well have been at the sight of Clare Short, who I now found myself next to.

"Miss Short . . . " I said.

"Just get your books out, sit down at your desk and keep quiet till we start," she said, then burst into tears. Poor woman.

Other under-used politicians drifted past - Duncan-Smith, Norman Lamont, Wm Hague - all bearing that super-confident look which politicians wear instead of a sell-by date, until I noticed my first non-politician: David Attenborough.

"Tell me your impressions of this line-up, Sir David. . ." I said.

He looked out over the milling throng.

"Today we are privileged," he intoned softly, "to be present at a rare gathering of the elders of the herd, when they come together to select one of their number as a leader. They have all been leaders themselves; any one of them has the killer instinct to do it; so the selection process could be long and bloody. Yet such are the mechanics of survival that they have evolved a way of choosing a leader which will involve no death, no gory fighting…"

"Be honest,  Sir David," I said. "Wouldn't you like to see a bit of blood? Wouldn't it be quite fun to see John Birt and. . . " I looked round the room “. . . and Melvyn Bragg, locked hand to hand in mortal combat? Knowing that only one could live?"

The Attenborough eyes glistened for a moment.

"Yes, it would."

Just then we were parted in the melee, and I looked round, wondering who to approach and network with next. Which of these familiar public figures who were all, like me, trying to bring meaning back to a life grown weary with success. Clive James? Andrew Motion? Germaine Greer? That woman who runs LastminuteDotCom whose name nobody can ever remember? And was that really Michael Barrymore over there, or just Rory Bremner up to another of his tricks? And how nice to see Jean Baptiste Aristide, just flown in for the session!

But before I could decide, an amplified voice broke in.

"If I could just have your attention, ladies and gentlemen, I'll explain the procedure we'll be going through to find a new Chairperson of the BBC . . . "

More of this vital meeting tomorrow, I hope.

The Independent March 10 2004


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