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Thursday, 31 January, 2002, 15:53 GMT
A life through many lenses
Former BBC Director General John Birt
Birt's new style of BBC management was both loved and loathed
When John Birt departed as BBC director general in January 2000 after eight years at the helm, he left a mixed legacy.

During his reign he oversaw the creation of BBC Radio Five Live and ensured the corporation recognised the impact of the coming digital age by establishing BBC News Online and BBC News 24.

But he introduced a new management culture in an attempt to make the corporation more efficient and the internal market it created was criticised for being over complicated and taking away time and money from programme making.

Sport lovers were unhappy too and criticised Lord Birt for not doing enough to prevent the BBC losing high profile sporting events - like the FA Cup, the Ryder Cup and Formula One racing - to commercial broadcasters.

Born on Merseyside in 1944, Lord Birt launched his career in television after an "enlightening" time at Oxford University, where he studied engineering, but immersed himself in any film and drama-related activities on offer.


Starting as a general trainee at Granada Television in 1966, he was put to work as a researcher for the current affairs programme World In Action.

In the early 1970s, Lord Birt moved to another ITV franchise, London Weekend Television, devising the ground-breaking political analysis show that eventually became Weekend World.

Sir John Birt and wife Jane
Arise Sir John - with his knighthood and wife Jane

He rose through the ranks there to finally become director of programmes.

But it was in 1987 he made his move into public service broadcasting, taking up the post of deputy to the BBC's then director general Michael Checkland.

Five years later, he was promoted to director general amid some controversy after the Sunday Times revealed he had been a member of the Labour Party at the time he was appointed.

This particularly upset Tories, who had often complained during the Margaret Thatcher years that the BBC had a left-leaning bias.

In 1998 he received a knighthood and in 1999, an honorary doctorate from Bradford University for his contributions to broadcasting.

Blair appeal

But in January 2000 came the appointment that was to see him end his days at the BBC - a seat in the House of Lords.

And it was not long before Lord Birt of Liverpool was being asked, personally, by Prime Minister Tony Blair for help.

In July, Mr Blair appointed him a crime advisor, looking at long-term solutions to the problem.

In August the following year the PM called on him again, to become his "strategic adviser" charged with "injecting new thinking into Number 10's long-term plans".

And in January 2002 Downing Street was back on the peer's side after he refused to give evidence to a Transport Select Committee despite becoming Mr Blair's Transport adviser as part of the new Strategy Unit.

See also:

31 Jan 02 | UK Politics
Birt warned of 'knock at door'
07 Jan 02 | UK Politics
UK transport system 'failing'
28 Oct 01 | TV and Radio
Former BBC chief 'regrets' hiring Birt
10 Aug 01 | UK Politics
Birt becomes Number 10 adviser
07 Mar 00 | UK Politics
Birt enters the Lords
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