Are you sure you want to be BBC director-general?

It's a living nightmare, says former Beeb boss Greg Dyke


We’ve already learnt from the BBC’s job advert for the post of director-general that the new Beeb boss must be a resilient, compelling creative leader and strategic thinker. The bar is high. But what will life be like should you beat the odds and land the post?


Former DG Greg Dyke has offered some clues. Writing today in The Daily Telegraph, Dyke – who sat behind the big desk between 2000 and 2004 – warns that running the BBC is not so much a dream job as a nightmare.

Applicants for the job, says Dyke, must be prepared for sleeplessness, a loss of privacy, poverty, treacherous colleagues and even interrupted holidays…

Wakey wakey

“The first requirement,” says Dyke, “is that if you are someone who struggles to sleep at night, don’t even think of applying – because there’s a fair chance you’ll never sleep again.” This is much more stressful than your average 9-5 CEO gig, because as well as the day-to-day tasks, “you become a public punchbag for anyone upset by, or politically opposed to, what the BBC stands for”.

The public eye

Even worse than the criticism is the possibility that you could become a famous face for all the wrong reasons: expect to see yourself on the right-hand side of the Daily Mail website, next to Kim Kardashian and Pippa Middleton. “Before I even started in the job, one tabloid ran a holiday picture of me and my children being pulled on an inflatable banana behind a speedboat,” Dyke recalls, still perhaps annoyed with himself for not converting this scene into a knockabout Saturday-teatime game show.

House arrest

If you’re thinking the solution to being papped in your bathers is not to go on holiday in the first place – such defeatism is indeed, depressingly, the only viable approach. If you do try to get away for a well-earned fortnight in Barbados, you’ll barely have cracked open the latest Jo Nesbo before your Blackberry goes mental and you have to cab it back to the airport. 

“Whenever I went on holiday a new crisis emerged,” complains Dyke. “I was in Turkey when Rod Liddle was forced to resign as editor of Today… I was away skiing in France when the Queen Mother died and the colour of Peter Sissons’s tie became a big story; and I was in the west of Ireland when the BBC report on weapons of mass destruction was first broadcast.” 

It wasn’t just Greg, either: he points out that the unseen, unmourned victim of Sachsgate was Mark Thompson, who tragically had to come home early from his summer hols to sort Ross and Brand’s mess out. 

A very British coup

The BBC is our state broadcaster, but don’t look to the government for help. Like the press, they are out to get you. “The longer politicians are in power, the more paranoid they become about it,” says Dyke. To be fair, Dyke himself can’t be called paranoid on this front because the Blair government really did bring him down via the Hutton inquiry, an episode that possibly still rankles a tad.

“Ministers say they recognise that the BBC belongs to the people, not the government of the day. Most of them don’t really believe it… there will always be someone on a parliamentary select committee or a minister in the relevant department who will try to exploit what you got wrong.”

Office politics

OK, so you can’t sleep, you can’t go on holiday and everyone outside the BBC is plotting against you. But surely the Beeb’s loyal workers will back you to the hilt? After another hard week of managing crises and sobbing at dawn, there you’ll be with your fellow public servants, putting the world to rights over a nice bottle of red down at Albertine’s on Wood Lane… right?

Wrong. Everyone at work will hate you as well. “You will certainly find some people, even on your own board, who didn’t want you in the first place,” Dyke predicts. “They will spend several years trying to undermine you… a would-be director-general needs to recognise that very few DGs ever left of their own accord.”

Bangs but no bucks

Horrific as all this sounds, let’s not forget that a lot of people do jobs they hate, trading in job satisfaction for financial reward. Yet here comes Dyke’s most devastating revelation: if you get the gig running the Beeb, you’ll be staring Austerity Britain right in the kisser, because the money isn’t all that. “Don’t expect to get rich,” Dyke says. “The advertisement doesn’t mention money, but you can’t expect the megabucks so many chief executives receive these days.”

Right, but let’s talk exact figures. How bad is it? If we need to switch from Penguins to own-brand digestives, we need notice. How much moolah will BBC chairman Chris Patten be plonking on the table? “I would be very surprised,” Dyke gloomily warns, “if he’s even prepared to pay as much as £400,000.”

So much for the biggest job in media. You’re better off staying down that salt mine.