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Friday, 28 January, 2000, 17:36 GMT
Greg Dyke: An ordinary bloke
By Chris Jones of the BBC's News Profiles Unit
When 20 attempts to secure a reporter's job at the BBC all ended in failure, the possibility of Greg Dyke leading the Corporation into the new Millennium must have seemed as remote as the prospect of emulating the goal-scoring exploits of his boyhood hero, Bobby Charlton.
His selection as director general came just five years after he'd ventured the assessment that "Saddam Hussein has got more chance of being offered it".
After all, Marks and Spencer hadn't perceived any budding talent in the young Dyke when they dispensed with his services as a trainee manager after four months.
And, years later, when he had achieved a modicum of success with London Weekend Television, he did not impress the man serving hamburgers at the mobile canteen, who told him it was for staff only.
Dyke told him: "I'm the managing director", which brought the retort: "And I'm Adolf Hitler".
But then the multi-millionaire and new boss of a 24,000-strong workforce always seemed "an ordinary bloke", not an image he cultivated, but one he did nothing to dispel.
Born in west London in 1947, the third of three sons of an insurance office manager, he left Hayes Grammar School with an A-level, in mathematics.
But he was able to persuade the Hillingdon Mirror to take him on as a trainee reporter, where, through his union, he tried to organise a rebellion of the poorly-paid juniors who were virtually running the paper.
After a spell on the Slough Evening Mail, he went to York University as a mature student.
There he found plenty of time to play football, and several of his team-mates recall one match against bitter rivals Lancaster clearly - well, hazily if the truth be told.
"Greg was very committed and he certainly had fire in his belly for that game", said Phil Kerridge. Another, Neil Gershon, said: "They couldn't find the oranges at half-time so we had wine".
Dyke said the team "was a real motley crew...the game went AWOL and the players went AWOL. I can't remember the result".
Greg did graduate - and 25 years later to the day, as director general designate, also received an honorary degree from York University - but at 30, with more press and PR experience and a wife - he was then unemployed.
Then he persuaded LWT to employ him as a researcher, merely the first rung on the broadcast ladder, but one which might have been the most important break.
According to the Times media editor, Ray Snoddy: "Most employers would think someone of 30 was far too old to be a researcher". Not that Snoddy, who was a trainee journalist with Dyke, was too surprised at his subsequent success.
"Greg's genuinely personable, very funny and a cheeky chappy", he says. "But he's also fast on his feet and can be very tough".
Television proved to be Dyke's true metier. At LWT, he championed such winners as Blind Date and London's Burning, dismissing the sneers of "intellectual newspapers" and went on to develop the most impressive CV of television executive posts.
1983 was a particularly significant year for Greg Dyke. Divorced from his first wife, Christine, he met Susan Howes, with whom he was to have a daughter and a son.
And he came to national prominence through his hunch that a glove puppet could deliver a kiss of life.
He was not the man who introduced Roland Rat to TV-am, the then ailing breakfast franchise, but it was Dyke who decided to promote Roland from a bit part to a star in a big pink car - and viewing figures soared.
He acknowledged that Roland Rat was probably the making of him. When he arrived at TV-am, the company was having trouble paying the bills.
"An electricity board man turned up when we were on air to say he was turning off the power in 15 minutes", he said. "I learned a lot about business and crisis."
Although his commercial drive could prove invaluable to the BBC in an increasingly competitive market, friends might have mixed feelings about his appointment.
Reputedly worth about £14 million, Dyke is so good at making money that one friend revealed: "When we hear that Greg has bought some shares, we all pile in".
He owns a couple of houses, the Judge Jeffreys restaurant in Dorchester and a majority shareholding in the Dartmouth Golf and Country Club. But he plays golf "rarely and badly" and says one of the members' favourite jokes is that 22 thousand golf balls were fished out of the lake -- "and they were all mine".
But Dyke's new job has persuaded him to part with several of his financial interests, and any future stockmarket venture would have to consider any possible conflict of interest.
And when possible profit clashed with his love of Manchester United, where he was a director, it was no contest.
He dug his heels in over BSkyB's efforts to assume command at Old Trafford, although the takeover was blocked in the end by the competition authorities.
That could have saved Dyke money - he'd promised to donate £20 thousand to charity if BSkyB succeeded. But when they didn't, he handed over the cash anyway. Of his millions he says: "I'm just a journeyman - it's unreal".
Dyke is impatient with bureaucracy; he says he has an eclectic mind and likes to reach decisions quickly. Which means BBC managers are steeling themselves for one of his favourite questions: "Is this meeting really necessary?"
Sir John Birt, still "a mate" of Greg Dyke's from their LWT days, says Dyke is "a great leader - he has passion, energy, commitment". But while Dyke the DG sees himself as good at delegating, that doesn't extend to some pursuits.
As a fellow Friday footballer with Dyke over many years, Sir John complains: "He doesn't pass the ball enough".
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