They came to remember one of the finest journalists of his generation. But Alastair Burnet would have understood why the name of another TV chief was on the lips of many today.
The memorial service for Burnet, who launched ITN News at 10 in 1967, and who died in July this year, attracted the silverbacks of television news and current affairs, from David Dimbleby and Trevor McDonald to veterans Peter Snow and Peter Sissons.
But it was the plight of the BBC that occupied the thoughts of many afterwards. Andrew Neil had emphasised the importance of trust during the service at St Martin-in-the-Fields Church, London. He repeated it afterwards to Radio Times: “If you have no trust you have nothing. People have got to stop making mistakes and you need people who are prepared to take responsibility for their decisions.”
Asked whether he recognised the BBC of “cowards and incompetents” and “biddable people” described by Jeremy Paxman, Neil said, “It wasn’t cowards or biddable people who started this whole thing off. It was Mr Paxman’s programme. If that is what he thinks, he should name names.”
Peter Sissons, who worked for both BBC and ITV News, said, “With one or two exceptions there’s no one at the BBC who could lick Alastair Burnet’s boots.”
He said he believed George Entwistle had been promoted beyond his ability and suggested the organisation was like “a clattering train running out of control.”
Former BBC newsreader Anna Ford said it was time to strip out the layers of management at the BBC. “They are like Japanese knotweed,” she said. “They should get rid of them all.”