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Last Updated: Tuesday, 21 September, 2004, 15:33 GMT 16:33 UK
Vulnerability of a natural born winner
By Mark Thompson
BBC director general

Greg Dyke
Greg Dyke signed copies of his book on Monday
BBC director general Mark Thompson reviews Greg Dyke's book Inside Story, which looks at his career in the media and the fall-out from the Hutton affair.

Of all the emotions in Greg Dyke's book, Inside Story - the warmth, the anger, the joie-de-vivre, the sense of betrayal - the strongest by far is bafflement.

To this day, Greg still seems bemused about how a man who was not just the most popular DG in the BBC's history, but one of life's natural winners could be so abruptly, so unceremoniously, stripped of it all.

Greg suggests answers, of course. A bullying government and a board of governors "behaving like frightened rabbits caught in the headlights".

But one doesn't need a full-blown conspiracy theory to explain what happened in the immediate aftermath of Lord Hutton's report.

The stakes were impossibly high by then and the report did not contain a single crumb of comfort for the BBC.

High drama

To understand what happened, you have to look not at the high drama of January 2004, but at decisions taken many months earlier - before David Kelly's death had turned what had begun as one more spat between BBC News and the No 10 press office into a gladiatorial fight to the death.

Mark Thompson
Mark Thompson replaced Mr Dyke earlier this year
Why did first Greg and then the governors decide to dig in behind Andrew Gilligan's report? Were they right to do so? And why did they give themselves so little room for manoeuvre?

The government would claim at the height of the row that Gilligan's famous 6.07 report was "100% wrong". That simply isn't the case.

Gilligan was on to an outstanding story. David Kelly was a first class, wholly credible source and his doubts about the government's first dossier on weapons of mass destruction shone a new light on the origins of the Iraq War.

It was exactly the kind of investigative journalism which the BBC should pursue.

Nor did it just slip onto the air. Inside Story reminds us of the care which the Today editor, Kevin Marsh, took with the story before transmission.

Greg Dyke
Greg Dyke recently accused Tony Blair of bullying the BBC
The book also sets out the steps Greg took to satisfy himself of the solidity of the journalism once the row had begun.

Although Greg today accepts that there were errors, "a couple of which were serious", he argues that Andrew Gilligan's story was "overwhelmingly true" and devotes an important chapter to showing why, based on what we now know.

But if we focus solely on the basis on which the story was broadcast at the time, then we have to conclude that there were serious shortcomings in the Gilligan report and that they should have been identified and corrected sooner than they were.

For many people and certainly for Greg himself, the Gilligan affair was about much wider issues: the overall justification for the war, New Labour and spin, Tony Blair's trustworthiness as prime minister.

But none of these are matters on which the BBC can take a view and they can't affect our judgement on the editorial decisions that were taken at the time.

But there's much more to Inside Story than Hutton.

Personal magic

John Birt and Greg Dyke
He is pretty ungenerous about his predecessor John Birt
Greg's infectious energy, that personal magic, was obviously there from the start: you can see it in the toothy seven-year-old who beams out from one of the photographs.

He deals entertainingly, yet with great tenderness, with his family and his early years, through to his slightly aimless twenties and then the break - an interview for a researcher post at LWT.

Greg knows that the big cheese is John Birt, then head of features and current affairs - and is delighted when John laughs at all his jokes, only to discover that the person he thinks is John Birt is in fact Barry Cox.

Birt is the strong, silent type in the corner making careful notes.

What follows is a meteoric, stunningly creative, not to mention faintly plutocratic progress through commercial television, with plenty of high points - Roland Rat, the directorship of Manchester United - as well as regular bust-ups. Greg is one of the ones who get fired.

Throughout it all, you never get a sense of Greg the politician, Greg the executive, Greg the private man - you just get Greg.

This utter honesty and immediacy may have been a vulnerability in the low politics of Hutton, but it makes for a uniquely inspiring and loveable human being.

Greg Dyke in 1986
The book features anecdotes from Mr Dyke's days in ITV
And then the BBC. It was a job he wanted desperately, perhaps without quite knowing why or what he would do if he got it. To an extraordinary extent, his agenda as DG emerged out of a conversation he had with the staff of the BBC.

He breathed confidence into the place, and the panache of his early strategic strokes - especially the move of the main BBC One news, where I was a co-conspirator - reminded everyone how fast and decisive the organisation can be when it chooses.

The account in Inside Story is not always pin sharp. Awkward moments tend to get, at best, a fleeting mention.

He is pretty ungenerous about his predecessor John Birt, who had handed him such a brilliant inheritance in virtually every department other than staff morale.

But Greg belongs to that generation of TV people who, despite backbreaking diaries and ferocious workloads, still somehow found the time to nurse grudges and vendettas stretching over decades.

Naughty boy

Overall though, it is a story he can be proud of, with dazzling strategic coups like Freeview and the flowering of a new, more egalitarian, more contemporary internal culture.

And throughout it all, Greg was able somehow not to be management at all. He was both the teacher and the naughty boy in the back of the class.

Greg Dyke
Mr Dyke's departure prompted staff protests
Greg is the second DG in less than 20 years to leave Broadcasting House with, in Spike Milligan's phrase, his head held high and his feet held higher. That's two out of the last four if you're counting - which, let's face it, I am.

But despite his relatively short tenure, he is one of the great DGs and I believe - and will do my best to ensure - that what he achieved will endure.

At the very end of the book, he says he thinks it's now time to move on, and that must be right.

You only have to talk to him for five minutes to see that he is still brimming with great ideas, as well as with mischief.

When I think of Greg, I don't think of Hutton, I think of Greg charming a room of jaded journalists back to life, or talking with passion about one of the many things he really believed in.

Not Greg at bay, but Greg causing trouble again, Greg flying.

This is an edited version of Mark Thompson's full review, as printed in the BBC's house newspaper Ariel. Inside Story by Greg Dyke is published by Harper Collins.


SEE ALSO:
Dyke denies he 'dumbed down' BBC
20 Sep 04  |  Entertainment
Dyke tells of BBC life in C4 show
27 May 04  |  Entertainment
Ex-BBC chief signs book deal
06 Feb 04  |  Entertainment


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